What Will Brexit Mean For Gibraltarians? Spain News

With Article 50 now well and truly triggered and Brexit in full swing, many Gibraltarians will be rightly concerned about what the future holds for them.

Of course, the whole issue of Brexit will not only affect Gibraltarians, It may also have a massive impact on the 12,000 people who currently live over the border in Spain, but who commute daily to the British outcrop in order to earn a living.

The truth is that Brexit has opened a whole new can of worms in the ongoing dispute between the UK and Spanish governments over the sovereignty of the island.

Spain Given the Right to Veto

Last week, the EU dropped a massive bombshell by granting Spain the right to veto any future trade agreements between Gibraltar and the EU.

A recent EU draft states, "after the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom."

This will no doubt cause a major headache, especially to the 32,000 residents of Gibraltar, 96% of whom voted overwhelmingly against leaving the EU, in what was one of the largest turnouts with of over 83% of the electorate choosing to vote.

The Spanish government is aware of this and many believe that it is using Brexit in an attempt to regain control of Gibraltar. Yet, in a 2002 referendum, the people also voted by 99% against joint sovereignty with Spain.

This has left the vast majority of Gibraltarians literally stuck "between the rock and a hard place". Not wanting to join the EU and at the same time, not wanting to be governed by its Spanish neighbours.

Former Tory leader Lord Michael Howard served only to heighten tensions between the two governments recently when he suggested that the UK could potentially go to war with Spain, as it had done with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, if it attempted to use the Brexit negotiations to assert sovereignty over the British territory.

A British Territory Since 1713

Gibraltar has been under British sovereignty and a British Overseas Territory since 1713 when it was ceded to Great Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Being a British Overseas Territory means that Gibraltar is largely self-sufficient, able to set its own tax levels and regulations with the UK overseeing other important matters such as foreign relations and defence.

Since it was ceded, the sovereignty of Gibraltar has been a contentious issue between the British and Spanish governments with many disputes highlighted on an almost daily basis in the media in recent years.

Repeat of the 1969 Border Blockade?

One of the major concerns for the people of Gibraltar is the potential shutdown and blockade of the border, which was the case in 1969 when General Francisco Franco closed the frontier after an attempted siege of the British colony.

The blockade put a complete stranglehold on Gibraltar and not only affected much of its trade and industry, but also divided many families who lived on either side of the border. The border was only reopened again fully in 1985, which was one of the conditions of Spain joining the EU. Many Gibraltarians likened this to a mini version of the tearing down of the Berlin wall.

Being cut off from the rest of Europe is a frightening prospect for the people of Gibraltar who rely heavily on tourism and see much of their income coming via mainland Spain. There is also the fear that the cost of everyday products such as food will rise sharply as much of it comes via mainland Spain.

However, is a Spanish blockade a reality?

If we look at the numbers we can see that it's very much not in the interests of Spain to do this again. Times have changed since the rule of Franco. Today, Spain is very much dependent on Gibraltar and trade with the UK.

In 2015, the UK imported around £5.1 billion in goods from Spain, vastly more than it exported. It also imported over £5 billion in services from Spain than it exported.

Another thing to factor into the equation is that in 2015 around 13 million British citizens visited Spain spending over £6 billion in the process with only around 2.2 million Spaniards visiting the UK during the same period.

It is estimated that over 300,000 Brits currently live in Spain, many of them over the age of 65 and drawing their pensions, which also contributes a vast amount to the Spanish economy.

The Brexit negotiations are very much just beginning and the coming months will determine the future fate of the British colony.