Gibraltar, British territory since 1713, doesn’t count itself a ‘corner of a foreign field forever England’. The people are of one mind, furious, incensed, enraged.
They detest the British government for dumping Europe and closing down on its borders. 97.5% voted to stay in cooperation with Europe. They feel betrayed.
The day after ‘Brexit’ it felt as if “A close relative you loved had died.” (They should have been in Scotland on September 19, 2014.)
Were David Cameron to visit the Rock today he’d probably get lynched. That’s how angry they are. It was quite humbling to listen to the expressions of anger.
The population, whether born there, or chose to live there, see themselves as Gibraltarians, a nation, albeit a small one, now vulnerable to economic stagnation, Spanish blockade, (again), and English xenophobia.
A British protectorate, the naval base much diminished since its early days. Gibraltar relies heavily on tourism, especially tourists off the cruise liners that drop by every day.
There is no VAT, making the price of material goods attractive, there’s a welfare system of sorts, and free higher education. Most properties are rented. The population stays around the 30,000 mark, a proportion Spanish, some Indians and Pakistanis, immigrants from South Africa, and a small orthodox Jewish community. Its flourishing economy, built around financial services, e-commerce and online gaming, is based on the single market and free movement. Every day, nearly half its entire workforce – up to 12,000 Spanish and other EU nationals – commute across the border.
Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, met to discuss a joint way forward to combat English xenophobia and anti-democratic imposition, both determined to find some way of staying in the EU.
My week in Gibraltar was at the invitation of their annual Literary Festival – my presence sponsored by the Alwani Foundation, an irony not lost on me. It was filled by expressions of their fury and their anxiety, much of it repetition, fired at anybody who would listen.
Readers will spot how comments echo those of people in Scotland. Everybody I talked to was friendly and good natured, a surprise considering the situation people are faced with. They know the worst has yet to come. In no special order, here is a small example:
The Shop Keeper 1
“It was a shock. I opened my glass blowing shop twenty-one years ago with EU funds. It’s a healthy business now, thanks to the EU, but now what? The biggest issue we’re facing is a free-flowing border, for people visiting Gibraltar and for the goods that we import. The raw material that we buy is exclusively bought from the European Union. It has to travel through the European Union to get to us. But if it faces a difficult Spanish border then we have a problem. In the same way it affects us being able to export our goods to the world. So the uncertainty covers every possible aspect of the business.”
The Shop Keeper 2
“It was a purely racists decision by ignorant English. I am very angry. They were fed a load of lies, rubbish by dishonest politicians, and because they dislike foreigners they believed it. They swallowed the lot. They believe stemming immigration will deliver a Utopian England they read about in Agatha Christie novels, that kind doesn’t exist, never existed. They think they don’t need to lift a finger to do anything else to make their life better.”
The Secondary Teacher
“Many years ago we were flagging waving British sycophants. Whatever happened in the British Empire was our history. Then in the early eighties there was a sea change in our education system. We decided to teach our children all about the history of Gibraltar. We told our children if they wanted to live in Gibraltar, to make it their permanent home, we had to be Gibraltarians, not pseudo-Brits. It took ten years, a generation, but it worked. We are a more cohesive, better society. We know our identity. The British prime minister keeps talking about the United Kingdom having made its decision. It didn’t. By a slim majority racist middle-England made a decision. Scotland, Northern Ireland, London, and Gibraltar made a different decision, and Gibraltar is not the United Kingdom.”
The Secondary Teacher’s Wife
And by the way, we really admire Nicola Sturgeon for her stance, straight-forward, uncomplicated, honest. We like her. She’s welcome here.”
“Our financial business model is built on passporting – being able to sell, say, a UK carpet manufacturer’s bonds into every country across the EEA. Brexit will force the Gibraltar Stock Exchange to reconfigure, possibly by opening a subsidiary in another EU state. If you’re a German corporate wanting to market to the UK, you’ll have to either seek approval from the FCA in London – or come to us. As a jurisdiction, Gibraltar is likely to be faster, more user-friendly and more competitive on price. We sit down the corridor from the regulator. Issues can be resolved fast. Gibraltar is almost a model of what the EU set out to achieve: cross-border cooperation, jobs for EU citizens, economic growth, full compliance; surely the EU won’t want that to end, Gibraltar to be punished? ”
The Police Officer
“Very worrying, sir. When you show loyalty all these years it’s crushing to discover loyalty is all one way. But we shall have to see what happens. That’s all I can say.”
“First thing I said when I heard it was Oh merde! It’s seriously stupid, regressive, anti-humane, anti-democratic, and self-defeating. But most of all it leaves Gibraltar in a precarious position. What kind of people are they who cut themselves off from the rest of the world, and then have the temerity to say foreigners can join them on their terms? It’s detestable, racist bigotry. But we don’t consider ourselves British anymore, and I am pleased we have our own identity. Who’d want to be associated with dumb English now?”
The Senior Politician
“I think a hard Brexit would be very, very challenging to the economic model that has been the source of our prosperity for 30 years. That will not be easy, and may even entail trying to negotiate a separate relationship with the EU. Our reality is different: we are part of the physical continent of Europe. So yes, we’ll be looking for a relationship with the EU that may differ from the UK’s, perhaps an associate-style status. There are models: Andorra, Greenland, Liechtenstein. As part of the UK’s exit, we’d like an agreement to continue to give us single market access, and freedom of movement. What the UK calls uncontrolled immigration, Gibraltar calls the essential flow of workers. So what we are working on now is how we can ensure our job market stays as open as it is now, for people who have the right, as EU nationals, to work in Gibraltar.”
“I’m a Gibraltarian. I was born here. My whole life has been spent here. Family, my grandkids. What have we to look forward to now? Soon as Brexit was announced the Spanish government moved in stating we will have to share sovereignty with Spain if we are to survive as we are now. We have never trusted Franco’s Spain. Never. Too many fascists still in power; pretending to be compassionate conservatives. Maybe we should share sovereignty with Scotland. It seems to have the right attitude.”
The Coach Driver
“No disrespect to you Scots, in fact we admire your attitude, but it had to be the stupidest decision made by the stupidest people on the planet. I mean, nothing will change. They think stopping migrant workers will alter their lives for the better. But immigration won’t halt. It might reduce in number a few years until politicians realise they’re blocking talent as well as refugees, but it will always stay the same; some Brits will leave; some immigrants arrive. The thick politicians pretended it was to rid English democracy of EU interference, that was just the cover excuse. Why did they have a referendum and stir up all that hatred? The English hate being told what’s better by foreigners. Stupid. The lot of them. Racists. Blind mice following a bigot off a cliff.”
British nationalists warn Scotland that Spain will have none of its independence regained ideals. Spain’s Mariano Rahoy, leader of the Orwellian named ‘People’s Party’, is juggling with a minority government and facing a series of high profile scandals, one former colleague jailed for four and a half years. He has said he will respect Scotland’s choice as it conforms to international law.
Spain’s foreign minister, José García-Margallo, who earlier this month threatened to “plant his flag” on the enclave, has repeatedly said Gibraltar’s only post-Brexit access to the single market will come through shared sovereignty. Prime minister Rajoy told Theresa May that once the UK abandons free movement and the single market, Gibraltar will have to do so too – unless it agrees to joint rule. “Over our dead bodies” answered Gibraltarians as one.”
The American tourist
Finally, an American couple visiting a day from “Mah-Laga”, (Malaga) were amazed that “the Brits can dump on one of their own territories and not give a damn.”
That remark pretty well sums up the universal disgust I met.
PLEASE NOTE: Readers comments must have their real name on their IP address, (house rules!) but in particular, anybody writing from Gibraltar must show a Gibraltar address. A bald “I live in Gibraltar – we’re all Brits” doesn’t carry veracity on a website, certainly not an individual claiming to speak for all Gibraltarians.