Gibraltar: Between a Rock and a hard Brexit


While the majority in Scotland chose to remain in the EU, nowhere was the pro-European Union urge stronger than in Gibraltar, where 96% of people voted to stay. What will the Rock do now?

Post-Brexit the UK will have two land borders with the European Union - between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and Gibraltar-Spain.

Both will require solutions on the movement of goods and people.

About 12,000 people cross the border from Spain each day to work in Gibraltar, swelling the local population of 30,000 by more than a third.

Image caption The airport runway is the only entrance in to Gibraltar for traffic

As borders go it is pretty unique.

You have to cross the runway at the airport either by car or on foot as it is the only land route in and out of the place they call the Rock.

When planes land or take off, the road across the runway is closed.

It is unusual, but still relatively straightforward, although even on a good day the traffic queues can be immense.

Image caption Traffic queues are a fact of life at the border

But Gibraltarians well remember the Franco years when Spain closed the frontier between 1969 and 1982, forcing people going to Spain to get a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and then another boat back to the Iberian peninsula.

Moments like that in 300 years of history here help reinforce a heightened sense of Britishness beyond the obvious signs such as red telephone boxes on a Southern European street.

Image caption Red phone boxes are just one outward sign of the Britishness of Gibraltar

The desire of Spain to join the EU was a major driving force in the reopening of the border and despite regular sabre-rattling by the Spanish government the 7,000 Spanish nationals who cross over to work each day, and depend on Gibraltar for their livelihoods, want it to stay that way.

And, of course, so do GIbraltarians, including Scots resident Valerie McColgan.

She said: "You just don't know what they are going to do.

Image caption Gibraltar is home to about 30,000 people

"They bring the Guardia Civil down from Madrid and they make you sit at the frontier up to eight hours to get out."

Another Gibraltar Scot, Leslie Vaughan, says the people will just deal with it whatever happens.

He says: "We're used to it, because it's never been any different. There has always been restrictions."

Given the uncertainty of a life outside the EU and what it might mean to the border in particular, 19,300 Gibraltarians - 96% - voted to remain while only 823 voted for Brexit.

Image caption John Bromfield was one of the 832 people in Gibraltar that voted to leave the EU

Businessman John Bromfield was one of the 4%.

He says: "Gibraltar is going to leave Europe along with Britain and it is then a question of what needs to be done to make that split workable for people.

"And in the case of Gibraltar, 12,000 families from across the border get their livings from this place and it is in Spain's interest to ensure that border is kept fluid and open."

Between the tiny leave camp and the huge pro-EU majority there is clearly some healing needed, with the Remainers having to do a lot of soul-searching to accept their new future.

Image caption Gibraltar's Church of Scotland minister the Reverend Ewen Maclean says people feel helpless

Gibraltar's Church of Scotland minister is the Reverend Ewen Maclean, originally a native of the Isle of Lewis.

He said: "In some ways, the man and woman in the street, we probably do feel quite helpless.

"We're under the sway of others, large European institutions, European governments, all arguing this out among themselves.

"And here we are in Gibraltar feeling very British but at the same time concerned that we're going to be cast adrift from Europe."

After the soul-searching comes pragmatism, second nature in a place where the deal is king, whatever language you speak.

The business community and the government campaigned strongly to Remain and now have to get their heads around the idea of a different future outside the EU.

For the Scottish government remaining in the Single Market is the stated minimum priority, but here border fluidity is key.

Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce President, Christian Hernandez, said: "We're much smaller than Scotland so I don't think we have the political pulling power Scotland would have in trying to negotiate a constitutional formula.

"We've taken a pragmatic view that we just have to accept the political reality of Brexit and we are concentrating our efforts on trying to ensure that the UK government negotiates a good deal for Gibraltar."

So unlike in Scotland there will be no constitutional response from Gibraltar, rather continued efforts to influence the Brexit outcome.

Attention is especially focused on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as the eventual solution there may also apply here on the Rock.

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