Spain makes pledge on Gibraltar: ‘Brexit won’t change anything’

Spain's foreign minister pledged Thursday that daily life in Gibraltar would not be affected by Brexit, easing fears that Madrid would use Britain's exit from the EU to gain authority over the overseas territory.

Spain makes pledge on Gibraltar: 'Brexit won't change anything'
Photo: AFP

Alfonso Dastis insisted however that Madrid and London resolve “small irritating problems” before allowing any post-Brexit deal to be applied to the tiny rocky outcrop nestled on Spain's southern tip.

Gibraltar has been under British control since 1713 but Madrid has long wanted it back.

As such, authorities in the territory fear Spain will influence the complex negotiations between the EU and Britain over its departure from the bloc to try to gain authority over Gibraltar or complicate daily life there.

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“Nothing will change” after Britain leaves, Dastis told AFP, adding that Brexit would not affect the daily to-and-fro between the two sides, crucial for the livelihood of thousands of workers who make the land crossing to Gibraltar every day, and for the economy of the territory itself.

“People will be able to keep living in one place and working in another,” he added.

“We don't have any intention of making life difficult for people, or closing any barriers or complicating mobility.”   

The small land border between Spain and Gibraltar is a longtime flashpoint in the row.

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 reopened in 1985.

Relations have ebbed and flowed since, but the past 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.

Airport, tax

Spain caused a stir last year when it had a clause inserted into the EU's negotiating position stating that post-Brexit, Spain will have the right to veto any future relationship between the 27-member bloc and Gibraltar.

This clause caused huge tensions when it was unveiled in March 2017, prompting British Prime Minister Theresa May to say she would “never” allow Gibraltar to slip from British control against the wish of Gibraltarians.   

Dastis said that Spain would not make its desired recovery of Gibraltar a condition in Brexit talks.

“We're very interested in maintaining the close relationship we have with the United Kingdom, which we want to improve in terms of people-to-people exchanges and in terms of investment,” he said.

But he insisted that Spain and Britain would have to resolve “small irritating problems” between the two before allowing the post-Brexit deal to be applied to Gibraltar.

These include the issue of Gibraltar's airport, which is built on a piece of land between Spain and the Rock that was not ceded to Britain in 1713.   

As such, Dastis said Spain would like joint use of the airport.   

He also said there was “a problem in the exchange of tax information” — a claim Gibraltar denies, saying it regularly complies to Spanish requests for data.

By AFP's Patrick Rahir y Michaela Cancela-Kieffer


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.