The complicated case of post- #Brexit #Gibraltar

| March 12, 2019

Gibraltar has always had a complicated relationship with the United Kingdom – and Brexit is about to make things even more complicated. The tiny area just at the southern tip of the vast Iberian Peninsula has always been a point of contention between Britain and Spain. Encircled by water and bordering the Spaniards at the north, the Rock is home to a little over 30,000 people, mostly Gibraltarians, British, and Maghrebis.

And it seems that most of its population is immensely worried about Brexit’s impact on its economy and relationship with the EU.

The Rock votes for ‘Remain’ but has to deal with Brexit

Officially designated as a British Overseas Territory, Gibraltar has long been courted by Spain – and it has twice rejected its claims over the land, voting against Spanish sovereignty in 1967 and again against shared sovereignty as recently as 2002.

But ever since the Brexit referendum, the Rock has undergone something of a disillusion with regard to its relationship as a British territory at the other end of Europe.

Almost 52% of UK voters famously decided to leave the EU in the referendum that took place on June 23rd, 2016, and the British government formally notified the EU of their intention to leave on March 29th the following year.

With 30 million people coming to vote, the turnout rose to almost 72% – which marks the highest turnout in any British elections since 1992. The narrow margin of win for Brexit has been widely contested between those in favor of remaining and has been vehemently defended by Brexit voters. But if the results in mainland UK might have given rise to skepticism, the results in Gibraltar were crystal clear: 96% of voters opted for Remain. With a whopping 84% turnout, which means that 20,172 people out of the 24,119-strong electorate exercised its voting right, over 19,000 people voted to keep the country within the EU.

This overwhelming majority means that voters are increasingly anxious over the role that the EU will play in the future of Gibraltar, with almost all of them wishing for a closer relationship. A hard Brexit, which is a very real possibility in the case of a no-deal Brexit, would mean that border controls will have to be re-instituted between the Rock and Spain, which hugely concerns Gibraltar residents. Having enjoyed open borders and the privileges that go with being part of the single market for so long, returning to some form of border controls could have a devastating impact on the Rock’s economy. The small territory is already frail enough, and its prosperity largely depends on industries that have to do with providing services.

The Complicated Relationship Between London and Madrid

As a territory that is surrounded by water, cargo ship refueling makes a significant contribution to Gibraltar’s economy, while tourism and financial services take the lion’s share. Online gambling is also important to the country, as new online providers keep popping up to compete with land-based casinos – and are looking for jurisdictions to get registered with. One of the biggest concerns though remains the issue of Brexit complicating the relationship between the UK and Spain. Early on, Spain has made it clear that it intends to use its right to veto any withdrawal agreement that does not satisfy its idea of what the future of the Rock should look like. It has also secured a promise with the British government that all negotiations over Gibraltar post-Brexit will have to be decided upon by both London and Madrid.

This has put Britain in somewhat of a hard place over the Rock. The issue is further entangled by the fact that, while Gib’s government fully supports Britain’s plans, its economy relies on Spanish workers, as well as goods and services that can easily be transferred across the borders. And it doesn’t help that the Rock’s government was excluded from bilateral negotiations between Spain and the UK over its own future. A special protocol was put in place for Gibraltar in order to reflect the uniqueness of the situation, but unlike the backstop for Northern Ireland, it has not really been fleshed out to date. It simply recognizes the importance of free movement and provides for a joint committee to coordinate key issues.

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Category: A Frontpage, Politics