September 20, 1964: Malta declares its independence from the UK

Four months after a referendum on independence and 164 years after it joined the British Empire, the Mediterranean island of Malta became a sovereign Commonwealth realm.

British rule of ‘the George Cross island’ of Malta came to an end on this day in 1964.

Part of the British Empire from 1800 – first as a Protectorate and then as a Crown Colony – the Mediterranean archipelago is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries.

Awarded the George Cross by King George VI for its collective bravery during World War II, it achieved self-rule after the war – and its post-war years were marked by politicians arguing variously for full integration with the UK, full independence (self-determination) or independence with the same dominion status enjoyed by Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In 1961 – after years of intense negotiations with the British government – the Blood Commission made provision for a new constitution where Malta was given self-government and recognised as the ‘State’ of Malta.

A referendum on this new constitution – which made the country an independent nation – was held in Malta between May 2 and May 4, 1964. It was approved by 54.5% of voters, and in September, Malta became an independent sovereign Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. 

[February 12, 1945: Allied leaders reveal plans for post-war Europe following Yalta summit]

An RAF Shackleton flew the Duke of Edinburgh, as the Queen’s representative, to Malta to officiate the independence duties.

And while there was a carnival spirit – with parades of floats, and people lining the streets as the Duke rode through the streets in an open-top car – there were also demonstrations. The Labour Party had protested against the terms of independence, maintaining that they would make Malta a vessel of Britain and powerless to withstand the political influence of the Catholic Church.

After conveying a message from the Queen, Prince Philip handed over the constitutional instruments to Malta’s Prime Minister, George Borġ Olivier. At nearly midnight, the Union Jack – which had first flown over the island 164 years previously, during the Napoleonic Wars – was lowered, and the flag of the new independent Malta was unfurled.

Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, with the President as head of state (although it remained part of the Commonwealth). The country joined the EU in 2004 and entered the Eurozone in 2008.