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GIBRALTAR

‘Being British is what we are’: Brexit casts shadow over Gibraltar’s future

With its traditional British red phone boxes, pubs serving fish-and-chips and tax-free shopping, Gibraltar has long drawn day-trippers from neighbouring Spain.

'Being British is what we are': Brexit casts shadow over Gibraltar's future
The rock of Gibraltar. Photo: AFP

But the easy flow of people across the border from Spain which underpins the economy of this tiny British territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula risks ending when Britain leaves the European Union's single market on December 31st.   

Along Gibraltar's pedestrianised Main Street whose buildings feature decorative Portuguese tiles, Genoese shutters and British wrought-iron balconies, shopkeepers worry business will be hurt by tighter controls at what will be a new border between Britain and the EU.   

“It is going to put people off visiting Gibraltar I think,” said 41-year-old Prem Mahtani at his jewellery shop on Main Street, one of four tourism-dependent stores run by his family in the enclave.

Along with gambling and offshore banking, tourism is a cornerstone of the economy for Gibraltar, one of the most prosperous regions in Europe which is home to 34,000 people and is historically claimed by Spain.

Located at the mouth of the Mediterranean, the British enclave welcomes around 10 million visitors per year, mainly day-trippers who cross from Spain under the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar, a massive limestone block whose white cliffs soar more than 400 metres (1,300 feet) above the sea.   

In addition, some 15,000 people cross into Gibraltar every day to work, accounting for half of the territory's workforce.

While most are Spanish, this labour force includes dozens of other nationalities, including about 2,500 Britons who live in Spain where housing is cheaper than in Gibraltar.   

With a land area of just 6.8-square kilometres (2.6-square miles), Gibraltar imports all of its food, which will take longer if administrative checks are increased at the border.

A desire to keep things flowing smoothly at the border explains why in 2016 nearly 96 percent of voters in Gibraltar backed staying in the EU, while in Britain proper the referendum vote was 52-48 percent in favour of leaving the bloc.

 

Reduced influence

Speaking to AFP, Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo (pictured below) said his government was seeking a deal with Spain which would maintain the “maximum possible level of fluidity” at the frontier, and was working with suppliers to ensure goods crossed in easily to avoid “economic collapse”.   

While reaching an agreement is “not easy”, it is still within reach, Picardo said, without giving details of the talks.

In the event there is no deal, Gibraltar has extended its port facilities to be able to handle more ships carrying goods.   

While Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 following a military struggle, Madrid has long wanted it back in a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the frontier.

Tensions peaked in 1969 when the regime of dictator Francisco Franco closed the border, which did not fully reopen until 1985.   

In 2013, a dispute over an artificial reef in waters claimed by both sides sparked a war of words that triggered months of gridlock at the border after Spain intensified checks, which only ended when Brussels stepped in.

But with Britain out of the EU, its ability to persuade Spain “not to put pressure on Gibraltar, to not have border closures, will all be reduced,” said Quentin Peel, an associate fellow at London's Chatham House think tank.

'Who we are'

For now, Spain's leftist government has agreed to put the issue of its sovereignty claim to one side to focus on keeping the border with Gibraltar open.

Madrid has in the past called for shared sovereignty with Britain over the territory, a proposal rejected by 99 percent of Gibraltarians in a 2002 referendum.

But if there are bottlenecks at the border, the people of Gibraltar could “in the medium and long-term” be persuaded that shared sovereignty would be better for them, said Ignacio Molina, an analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute think-tank in Madrid.   

“If there was a good deal that allows them to have self-government and keep a British military base there, that could convince them and overcome the great suspicion they have about Spain,” he told AFP.

Picardo, however, said Spain could do nothing that would “change our minds about our desire to remain wholly and entirely British”.   

“Being British is what we are, it is what we have in our veins,” he added.    “It's our culture, it's our education, it's our way of life.”

By AFP's Daniel Silva

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BANKING

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

UK nationals living in Spain have begun to receive letters from their bank telling them that their accounts will be closed, in an apparent post-Brexit change. Have you been affected?

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

Customers of Barclays Bank who are living in Spain and other EU countries have been receiving letters telling them that their UK accounts will be closed by the end of the year. 

A number of readers of The Local’s network of news websites have contacted us to report receiving either letters or messages in their online banking telling them that their accounts would be closed because of their residency in Spain or in other countries in the EU.

A Barclays spokesperson told The Local: “As a ring fenced bank, our Barclays UK products are designed for customers within the UK.

“We will no longer be offering services to personal current account or savings customers (excluding ISAs) within the European Economic Area. We are contacting impacted customers to give them advance notice of this decision and outline the next steps they need to take.”  

Customers are being given six months to make alternative arrangements. The changes affect all personal current accounts or savings accounts, but do not affect ISAs, loans or mortgages.

During the Brexit transition period Barclays closed Barclaycard accounts of customers in Spain, but did not indicate any changes to standard bank accounts.

READ MORE: 

Around the same time several other British high street banks began closing accounts of British customers who live in the EU, although with the exception of Barclaycard customers in Spain who were largely spared.

Many UK nationals who live in Spain maintain at least one UK bank account – in addition to a Spanish account – sometimes just for savings but others use their accounts regularly to receive income such as pensions or income from rental property or – for remote workers – to receive income for work done in the UK.

Not having a UK bank account can make financial transactions in the UK more complicated or incur extra banking fees.

READ MORE: What are the best UK banks for Brits in Spain?

Since Brexit, the UK banking sector no longer has access to the ‘passporting’ system which allows banks to operate in multiple EU countries without having to apply for a separate banking licence for each country.

And it seems that many UK high street banks are deciding that the extra paperwork is not worth the hassle and are withdrawing completely from certain EU markets. 

When British banks began withdrawing services from customers in the EU back in 2020, a UK government spokesman told British newspaper The Times that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a number of factors” so Brits in Spain probably shouldn’t hold their breath for any help from that direction.

READ ALSO: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account

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