Gibraltar isn't scared of Brexit

Tourists and local residents, in the main shopping street in Gibraltar.
Tourists and local residents, in the main shopping street in Gibraltar. / H. B.
  • The withdrawal of Britain from the European Union has revived nationalist sentiment and a mistrust of Spain among Gibraltarians

  • People on the Rock are facing up to the prospect with uncertainty but confidence

"We'll get by, we always do," Maribel answers us in perfect Spanish, after we interrupted the conversation in impeccable English she had been having with an Irish friend in Main Street, Gibraltar. She doesn't know exactly how her life will change at midnight tonight, when Britain leaves the EU, but her feelings, a mixture of uncertainty and confidence, seem to be shared by Gibraltarians in general. She doesn't know what is going to happen, but is convinced it won't all be bad.

"I hope the same thing won't happen with Brexit, because Spain shot itself in the foot by doing that; the people who suffered most from the border controls were the workers who came from La Línea. It only takes me five minutes to get home when I finish work," says a taxi driver.

He, like many other people in Gibraltar is wary of Spanish media and didn't want us to take his photo or give his name. He says most Gibraltarians voted to Remain (about 96%) "because they voted with their heads and not their hearts. The result would be different now, though, because Spain does nothing but threaten us," he insists. In fact, he says, the UK has shown the way forward to other countries in the EU that no longer want to cede sovereignty to Brussels.

British government

Returning to a subject closer to home, he says that every time there is a conflict over Gibraltar between Spain and the UK, Gibraltar comes out even stronger and that will also be the case if it is isolated after Brexit.

The gastronomic revolution in Gibraltar may be one of the most notable legacies of the 2013 crisis, but the closure of the border in 1969 had an even greater social effect, says Hilda, who is now 92 years old. "We didn't have any Spanish workers and the women had to go out to work. We haven't stopped since," she says, with a smile. She hasn't been to Spain in ten years, she says, but she does fly to the UK once a month to visit her daughter in London.

Maribel's father was Gibraltarian and her mother was Spanish, from La Línea. They settled in Gibraltar when she was 15. She has a more traumatic memory of the years of isolation. "My mother learned that my grandmother was very ill in La Línea and wanted to go and see her. In those days you had to go by boat to Morocco and then take another boat from there to Algeciras. It took more than a day. When she got there, my grandmother had died. My mother never forgave them for that," she says.

With the years of diplomatic crisis still fresh in the collective memory, Gibraltarians are looking at 31 January with more uncertainty than fear. They also know that there will be a one-year transition period during which the changes will be applied gradually.

Peter, another taxi driver who joined the conversation, has no doubts about the situation. "If Spain uses Brexit as an excuse to impose extra checks at the border, it will affect Spanish people who come here to work, not us," he says. He also points out that Gibraltar is self-sufficient in basic amenities. "Every time I hear someone say they are going to cut off our electricity supply or water, I fall about laughing," he says. And fuel and most foods arrive by sea.

Such confidence, however, could be disproportionate. Numerous gaming companies which operate throughout Europe have based themselves in Gibraltar in recent years. "A lot of people work for them," says Linda, who was about to go into a large supermarket to do her daily shop when we spoke to her. Gibraltarians realise that when Britain leaves the EU ,these gaming companies could eventually relocate. Malta is best placed to take over.

Another cause for concern is the price of food. Morrisons supermarket has become the biggest store in Gibraltar. Its car park, on a Monday morning, sees an incessant procession of customers with full shopping bags. However, Linda admits, "the biggest worry we have is what will happen to food prices, because things are already more expensive here. When I go to Mercadona on the Spanish side I come back with seven bags; I only come out of Morrisons with two," she says.

A look at the prices inside the hypermarket, especially fresh produce, gives an insight into what could be to come for the Gibraltarians if Brexit results in problems in entering Gibraltar with Spanish foods. A kilo of clementines is priced at £2.40 (2.83 euros). Apples are 40p (72 céntimos) each.

These prices explain why the cost of shopping is, at the moment, the main concern of Gibraltarians with regard to Brexit. Apart from that, they seem confident about the future.

Lynn, who admits that she cried when she heard the referendum result, sums up in a few words what she expects from the future. "This will just be another stage in our history. In the end, we always survive, no matter what".