Gibraltar is one of the 14 Overseas Territories (OTs) of the United Kingdom, but it only takes a few days in this territory to realise that this legal status appears insufficient to describe what it actually is. Before reaching Gibraltar one can imagine a rock, with no further interest than that of its geostrategic value. But, when you are in Gibraltar you discover a fully institutionalised territory, with its own resources and intense social, political and economic activity, particularly in the financial and tourism sectors. In depth, Gibraltar is more than an OT, especially due to the institutional development process that has been ongoing during these last decades, which culminated in the adoption of the territory’s 2006 Constitution. This Constitution confers on Gibraltar more autonomy than, for instance, to Scotland and it guarantees Gibraltarians their right to self-determination, if they wish to do so.
Overall, it seems to me that Gibraltarians are comfortable with, and they feel very secure in, their current legal status, despite reality showing that Gibraltar is in a transitional period between an OT and a micro-state. One academic has noted that: ‘Today Gibraltar a BOT is a self-governing community or mini-state, at least as far as internal affairs are concerned.’11. Archer, A.G. (2006) Gibraltar, Identity and Empire, Abingdon: Routledge, p. 75.View all notes However, from a democratic perspective, it is important to respect the will of Gibraltarians. But, what it is clear is that territories are alive and depending on the challenges that they face, their statuses must be flexible and adapt to the new requirements. In fact the ‘Gibraltar in Westminster Movement’ has launched a petition calling for the Rock to have its own representation in the British Parliament.
Gibraltar and Gibraltarians have a very marked and characteristic identity which gives them a differentiating element. This element is manifested in their cosmopolitan and multicultural society. Gibraltar’s hybrid identity, which combines local cultural elements with a strong British consciousness, makes this territory a unique one. This identity not only is based on its culture and language, but also on its intense history and hard political events, which have marked the different centuries. This small territory has overcome wars and has been ruled by different powers, Moorish rule being the longest one. If there is anything outstanding about this territory, it is the braveness of its people as well as their political determination. Gibraltarians know what they want to be (British) and what they do not want to be (Spanish). In 2002 an overwhelming majority of them refused a proposed co-sovereignty deal between Spain and the United Kingdom.
The Brexit issue is the current challenge that Gibraltar has to overcome. Despite the fact that almost the 96% of the Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU, Gibraltar will have to follow the will of the UK and leave the EU. At this time, uncertainty is the greatest concern of Gibraltar’s citizens. In this sense, Gibraltar is a territory that can suffer a particularly serious negative impact after Brexit, especially if a hard Brexit happens. The major fear concerns the closure of Gibraltar’s border with Spain. In fact, Franco’s decision in 1969 to close the border for more than a decade is still very present in Gibraltarians’ collective memory. It is worth remembering that every day more than 10,000 workers cross the border and every year Gibraltar receives more than 12 million tourists. Moreover, the border closure could prevent companies located in Gibraltar from accessing the common services market.
It would appear that Spain is going to be very much involved in the Brexit negotiations concerning the Gibraltar issue. After the abandonment of the 2006 Córdoba agreements, which allowed for a proper understanding between the parties, there have not been further attempts to normalise the situation. However, it is necessary to note that at a local level there are institutions made up by Gibraltarian and Spanish representatives who work together in order to enhance mutual cooperation and flexibility in relation to their common interests and concerns, such as cross-border movement of workers and academic collaboration. In my view, at a political high level, elites from Brussels should work to support initiatives that could open up new channels of co-operation. If Brussels does not follow Spanish–Gibraltarian local policy, it can generate a gap between local interests, who are much closer to the citizens’ real lives, and the high political elites, who are often too detached from reality. We cannot forget that a closure would also have very negative economic effects for the Spanish region of the Campo de Gibraltar. The EU must prove that is more than a mere organisation of States, and is a ‘Europe of the peoples’ as envisaged by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman in the 1950s.