The Rock fears hard Brexit, but Gibraltarians have seen worse

Gibraltarians voted by 96 percent to remain in the European Union but as Brexit looms, they say their attachment to the United Kingdom still prevails, unlike some in Scotland who would rather remain in the bloc.

The Rock fears hard Brexit, but Gibraltarians have seen worse
A member of the British army marches into the centre of Gibraltar on 28 March, 2017. Photo: AFP

The tiny British overseas territory on Spain's southern tip has long been the subject of an acrimonious sovereignty row between London and Madrid, which wants Gibraltar back after it was ceded to Britain in 1713.

The Rock fears that Spain may try to take advantage of Britain leaving the EU, a momentous move expected to start Wednesday that will also exclude the 32,000-strong territory from the bloc.

In theory, this could make it harder for people from Gibraltar to travel across their only land border to Spain, unless Madrid and London come to a bilateral agreement.

The Rock, which relies on tourism, financial services, online gaming and shipping services, also fears it could harm its economy.

READ ALSO: Spain 'waiting to pounce' if Gibraltar leaves the EU


The June 2016 referendum result provoked “a total earthquake,” says Damon Bossino, a 45-year-old lawyer born in Gibraltar.

Of Italian descent, married to a Spaniard whose family lives on the other side of the border, he says he “felt panic” when he woke up the next day.

Gibraltar, surrounded by the Mediterranean on one side and the Atlantic on the other, depends on the small land border with Spain for much of its provision of supplies and visitor flow.

Some 10,000 people also make the crossing daily from Spain to work, and they fear that Madrid may make things more difficult at the frontier.

Quick off the mark, Madrid has offered dual citizenship to Gibraltarians in exchange for joint sovereignty of the territory, which would allow them to remain British and in the EU.

Such a proposal isn't new, though, and had already been put to a 2002 vote in Gibraltar, which rejected it outright.

And even after Brexit, residents in the Rock don't appear to want to rush into Spain's arms, says Alfredo Vazquez, a 36-year-old accountant.

“It is a sense of identity,” he says.

For Jose Luis Martinez, a 40-year-old Spaniard who crosses the border daily to work in his events company, Brexit is also a concern.

He fears it may impact the Spanish border region, where unemployment is high and many work in Gibraltar, or the education of his daughter, who lives in Spain but goes to Gibraltar's bilingual school.

'Our own Berlin Wall'

But Gibraltar has seen worse.

Bossino was born in 1971 at the time of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in Spain, who closed the border with Gibraltar outright.

“It was our own Berlin Wall,” he recalls.

“I remember seeing a very good friend of mine with a split family. We would go to the closed gate and they would shout at each other with the family on the other side.

“Franco also cut the telephone lines, it was a complete blockade.”

Less extreme but still disruptive, Spain upped border checks in 2013 in a row over disputed waters, creating hours-long logjams and forcing the European Commission to wade in and ease the crisis.

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

But both Bossino and Vazquez remain positive.

“We've always been an entrepreneurial people, we will always find a way out,” says Bossino.

READ ALSO: Brexit cases anguish on Gibraltar


Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.