With Brexit, Gi­bral­tar a rock in a hard place

Bor­der and econ­omy ques­tions rise

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY MARTIN AROSTEGUI

GI­BRAL­TAR | Ne­go­ti­a­tions over Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union start­ing this week are likely to prove long and dif­fi­cult, but per­haps nowhere will they be more dis­rup­tive than on this rock out­crop­ping/ colony of 32,000 Bri­tish sub­jects that juts out of Spain’s south­ern tip.

Brexit is cast­ing un­cer­tainty for com­mu­ni­ties through­out the United King­dom and Europe that will be af­fected by changes in trade, free­dom of move­ment and job prospects, as Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May tries to win the best pos­si­ble exit deal from the EU.

But few have as much di­rectly at stake as the Gi­bral­tar­i­ans, 95 per­cent of whom voted last year in fa­vor of stay­ing in the EU out of fear that they could be left at the mercy of Span­ish de­signs to im­pose its sovereignty on “The Rock.” Along with North­ern Ire­land, Gi­bral­tar is one of the few places where Bri­tain shares a land bor­der with an­other EU state, com­pli­cat­ing the di­vorce pro­ceed­ings im­mensely.

Spain lost Gi­bral­tar in an 18th-cen­tury war with Bri­tain, which es­tab­lished a naval base at the strate­gic en­trance to the Mediter­ranean and col­o­nized it with mi­grant la­bor­ers from Malta, Cyprus and parts of North Africa, as well as with na­tive Spa­niards from south­ern An­dalu­cia. Spain has been try­ing to claw back the small spit of land ever since.

Right-wing dic­ta­tor Fran­cisco Franco, who ruled Spain dur­ing much of the last cen­tury, closed the nar­row land con­nec­tion to Gi­bral­tar as a way of pres­sur­ing Bri­tain for its re­turn. The bor­der was re­opened when Spain joined the EU in the 1980s un­der a demo­cratic govern­ment. The joint mem­ber­ship of London and Madrid in the EU tended to limit ten­sions over Gi­bral­tar to a low sim­mer, but Brexit will bring changes in pol­icy on Gi­bral­tar, a se­nior Span­ish of­fi­cial said.

One clause in the EU state­ment last month out­lin­ing con­di­tions for Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions stip­u­lates that Spain must ap­prove any new trade ar­range­ment with Bri­tain over Gi­bral­tar.

“Brexit leaves us un­pro­tected,” said Jonathan Sacra­mento, news di­rec­tor at the Gi­bral­tar Broad­cast­ing Corp., Gi­bral­tar’s main TV chan­nel. “If Spain shuts the bor­der again, it would to­tally par­a­lyze our econ­omy.”

Span­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Jose Gar­ci­aMar­gallo did lit­tle to calm fears af­ter the shock re­sult in the Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum last year, say­ing Brexit rep­re­sented “Spain’s big chance to re­cover Gi­bral­tar.”

Spain also flexed its mus­cle in Au­gust 2013 when po­lice beefed up bor­der con­trols over a plan by Gi­bral­tar of­fi­cials to build an ar­ti­fi­cial reef that ham­pered Span­ish fish­ing ves­sels op­er­at­ing in con­tested waters. Ve­hi­cle and pedes­trian traf­fic in and out of The Rock ground to a vir­tual halt over sev­eral days as passports and bags were metic­u­lously in­spected un­der the blaz­ing sun.

“If Spain cre­ates long bor­der queues to­day, God help us af­ter Brexit,” said Paul Del­mar, a taxi driver who earns his liv­ing by fer­ry­ing tourists from the bor­der bar­ri­ers to the his­toric town cen­ter lined with pubs and duty-free shops.

In the 2013 stand­off, a spe­cial EU del­e­ga­tion flew in to urge the Span­ish govern­ment to re­lax bor­der con­trols. The lo­cals say they know there will be no such in­ter­ven­tion af­ter Brexit.

Not a pawn

De­spite the cloud hang­ing over Gi­bral­tar’s fu­ture, some are putting on a brave face.

“Gi­bral­tar is not go­ing to be a pawn in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said Gi­bral­tar’s main elected of­fi­cial, Chief Min­is­ter Fabian Pi­cardo, who down­plays much of the scare talk.

He noted that 92 per­cent of Gi­bral­tar’s trade is with Bri­tain, mainly in fi­nan­cial ser­vices. A fifth of all Bri­tish auto in­sur­ance poli­cies are writ­ten in Gi­bral­tar, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal govern­ment, which of­fers tax ad­van­tages to in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and banks. Be­cause of its unique sta­tus, Gi­bral­tar has be­come one of the world’s big­gest cen­ters of on­line gam­bling, which is re­spon­si­ble for 1 in 10 jobs in the en­clave.

With Brexit clip­ping ac­cess to the Bri­tish mar­ket, Mr. Pi­cardo said, English­s­peak­ing EU na­tions such as Malta and Ire­land may turn to Gi­bral­tar as a gate­way

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