• Spain's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Don't rock the boat, Gibraltar pleads as Brexit breeds fear
Photo: Clare Wilkinson/Flickr

Don't rock the boat, Gibraltar pleads as Brexit breeds fear

AFP · 26 Mar 2016, 09:30

Published: 26 Mar 2016 09:30 GMT+01:00

Miles away from the debate gripping Britain over whether to leave or stay in the European Union, this rocky outcrop of 33,000 residents where fish and chips and double-decker buses are a fixture is nevertheless eyeing June's upcoming referendum with increasing alarm.

At stakes are a thriving services-based economy that relies in large part
on access to the EU's single market, and a sovereignty spat with Spain it believes threatens its only land access to the continent.

"I'm very concerned that it would mean that our current economic model would not be sustainable," says Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, sitting in a white government building in the city centre.

The territory -- half the size of London's smallest borough of Kensington and Chelsea -- relies on tourism, financial services, online gaming and shipping services for its economy, which grew an estimated 10.3 percent in the last financial year.

Part of the attraction for foreign investors lies in its low-tax regime. But Gibraltar's EU membership also allows firms approved to operate there to do business in any other nation of the bloc without having to re-apply for permission. 

The combination has proved attractive to investment, insurance firms and others in the financial services sector, which represents around 20 percent of Gibraltar's economy.

"One of the reasons why companies are here is their ability to sell their services throughout the EU... and that reason for being in Gibraltar will be taken away," says Picardo.

Not far from his government building, crowds throng a main street lined with shops, including the quintessentially British Marks & Spencer.

Nearby, tourists take pictures at a red phone box, just some of the millions who visit every year to get a taste of this seaside, sun-baked corner of Britain.

A large majority of visitors come across the small land border -- a long-time flashpoint in the row between Gibraltar and Spain, which has wanted the Rock back ever since it had to cede the territory to Britain in 1713.

Spain's dictator Francisco Franco went as far as closing the crossing in 1969, all but stranding inhabitants who had to rely on air and boat links until it was fully re-opened in 1985.

Relations have ebbed and flowed since, but the past four years have seen a regain in tension under Spain's conservative government, which apart from sovereignty claims also bristles at tobacco smuggling across the border and accuses Gibraltar of being a corporate tax haven.

In one particularly belligerent row over disputed waters, Spanish authorities upped border checks in 2013, creating hours-long logjams and forcing the European Commission to wade in and ease the crisis.

Many fear this could happen again if Gibraltar loses its EU status.

"Half or more of the clients we have are people who cross the frontier," says Isaac Batista, who works at a liquor store on the main street, where cigarettes and alcohol are far cheaper than in Spain.

"If the border closes, it's going to be very different," he adds, not just for retailers but also for the 10,000 people who make the crossing daily from Spain to work.

People like Manuel Marquez, an employee at a factory in Gibraltar's port who rides his scooter to the Rock every day from the border town of La Linea de la Concepcion with his wife Maria-Carmen, a cleaner.

The 57-year-old recalls how he sometimes had to wait up to nine hours to go home after a full day's work during the 2013 logjams.

His exasperation boiled over into protests and cost him two separate fines.

"I was desperate... We were thousands of people working here, suffering," he says, sitting at a fast-food joint on the Spanish side of the frontier -- Gibraltar's large rock ever present in the background.

Story continues below…

The spectre of Franco's border closure also hangs over many families who are divided between Spain and Gibraltar.

At the time, Marquez lived on the Rock. When he found out his father had died, he tried to cross via the sea, failed and jumped the border fence instead.

"I just didn't know what to do," he explains.

He was promptly detained by Spanish police, who allowed him to go see his family before sending him back to Gibraltar via Morocco.

But for Juan Franco, Mayor of La Linea, the real concern would be Brexit's impact on Gibraltar's economy.

Unemployment in his 72,000-strong city stands at 40 percent, one of the worst-hit places in Spain, and the majority of those who work do so over the border.

"If Gibraltar stopped to generate work, it would be a real problem for our city," he says.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Hapless thief caught after FOUR hours trapped in hot car
Photo: Joan Carles Valero / ABC

Police rescued a thief after a robbery went wrong and he spent four hours trapped inside a car parked in the heat of the day in Barcelona

Christmas Day elections loom as opposition blocks govt deal
Rajoy has not got the support he needs to form a government. Photo: AFP

Spain could be heading for the polls on Christmas Day if Mariano Rajoy fails to win a confidence vote in Parliament today.

The ten commandments for expats living in Spain
Sometimes you just need to throw yourself into the local culture. Photo: AFP

Irish expat Carol Byrne outlines the ten golden rules you will need to follow to be a happy expat in Spain.

Madrid LGBT group takes action over ‘gay cure therapy’
Madrid introduced anti-homophobic laws earlier this month. Photo: AFP

A Spanish pressure group that fights against homophobia has filed a complaint against a therapist who offers “to cure homosexuality”.

Expat Spain: Warm, friendly and brilliant for family life
Spain is one of the best nations for expats. Photo: theinterngroup.com/ Flickr

A great climate and friendly locals make up for the lack of career opportunities in Spain, according to a survey ranking the quality of life for expats around the world.

La Tomatina: Everything you need to know about epic fiesta

Every year on the last Wednesday in August the town of Buñol prepares to get seriously messy when it stages what has become the world's biggest food fight.

Costa del Sol beach closed over shark fears
The Civil Guard patrolled the beach looking for the shark. Photo: Pedrator_desert/ Twitter

Thought jellyfish were a nuisance? Fuengirola just got a lot scarier.

The Local List
15 amazing Unesco World Heritage sites to visit in Spain
The town of Ávila. Photo: Chroniron/Wikimedia Commons.

Spain has an impressive 45 locations listed as Unesco World Heritage sites for their cultural significance or natural beauty, including some that are entire towns. Here's a look at some of the most stunning.

Rajoy says forming new government ‘a wish’
Spain has been subject to a political deadlock for the past eight months. Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP file picture

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned Saturday ahead of parliament's confidence vote for a second term in office that the formation of a new government remained "more of a wish".

Spanish police smash Chinese immigration ring
The Chinese nationals paid the ring about €8,000 to get a fake work contract. Photo: Cristina Quicler /AFP

Spanish police said Saturday they had smashed a major ring allegedly providing Chinese nationals living illegally in the country with fake contracts as domestic staff so they could get residency permits.

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
La Tomatina: Everything you need to know about epic fiesta
National
Shocking video shows torture of young calf during fiesta
Police launch appeal for Costa Blanca hit and run driver
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Politics
What political deadlock? Spain economy forges ahead
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Features
Eight reasons to spend your gap year exploring Spain
International
'We won't ban burqinis on our beaches' insists Barcelona
National
British dad drowns saving daughter on red flagged beach
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
11 Spanish words that English must adopt right now
Lifestyle
Justin Bieber just bought an amazing new pad in Lanzarote
Lifestyle
Recipe: How to make Andalusian Ajo Blanco soup
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Travel
Keep passports safe: Typical pickpocket scams revealed
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Travel
Ten touristy types you'll meet in Spain: Which one are you?
Lifestyle
Ten top tips to avoid looking like a guiri when in Spain
International
Don't miss this spectacular meteor shower over Spain
Travel
Desperate Ryanair passenger chases after missed flight
Travel
What's on in Spain: August 2016
National
Get your kit off! Spain's ten best nudist beaches
National
German firestarter blames blaze on 'toilet paper mishap'
National
Flashmob prank sparks 'terror attack' panic in Spanish resort
Culture
Croquemon Go: Spain invents twist on game to 'eat 'em all'
Technology
Six free apps to simplify your summer in Spain
National
Spanish parents fight for right to name their son 'Wolf'
National
Beach closed after shark attack in southern Spain
3,239
jobs available