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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 January, 2005, 00:49 GMT
Files reveal 1953 Gibraltar row
The Rock of Gibraltar
Churchill denied that he promised to give Gibraltar to Spain
A row between the British and Spanish governments 50 years ago over Gibraltar has been revealed in official archives.

Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco accused the UK of reneging on a promise to hand over the rock after World War II.

Sir Winston Churchill denied the Spanish claim, made in August 1953, that they had been promised Gibraltar in return for staying neutral.

The documents were released at the National Archives at Kew, London.

In August 1953 a telegram from Madrid to the Foreign Office quoted the Generalissimo as telling the Arriba newspaper: "If the hopes of the restitution of the Rock held out to Spain during the war are not fulfilled, no one should doubt that we will use every means to put an end to this offensive situation."

Bad faith?

He accused the British of bad faith and selfish, outmoded imperialism in retaining Gibraltar.

The Spanish argued that some kind of assurances were given to them about Gibraltar on at least two occasions.

The first was said to have been made by a British diplomat to a Spanish ambassador in 1940.

A letter from the Foreign Office asked: "The prime minister would be obliged if he could be given a short note on the question. What did we say to Franco about Gibraltar during the war?"

Sir Winston was also accused of making such promises the following year at a luncheon party in the Spanish embassy.

According to a confidential document, Sir Winston was consulted in 1949 about the luncheon party.

No 'formal pledge'

It said the then prime minister stated "while he might have made favourable comments on the position of Spain in the Mediterranean, it was quite untrue that he had at any time given any formal pledge to Spain".

War-time files dispersed outside London were consulted to provide a definitive answer to the Spanish claims.

According to an official memo on War-time Statements to Generalissimo Franco on Gibraltar, the government decided its policy towards Spain was defined by War Cabinet conclusions made in June 1940.

Under these conclusions, the British government said they could tell the Spaniards they "should be ready after the war to discuss any matter of common interest" between the two countries.

Crucially, the War Cabinet decided "this offer should omit any specific mention of Gibraltar".

Spanish communiqué

The British concluded there was no record of any promises being made to Spain.

The then Spanish Foreign Minister penned a note in response to this conclusion, which was reported in The Times newspaper in May 1954.

He said, according to his ministry's archives, the British government "offered to discuss with the Spanish Government, should Spain remain neutral, the return of Gibraltar once the war ended".

The British government decided to put an end to the dispute by refusing to comment on the claims.

A confidential Foreign Office memo called the Spanish communiqué "a flimsy and unconvincing document", adding: "We do not think there would be any advantage in putting out an official reply".

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