With all of the noise surrounding Britain’s impending departure from the
European Union, there is no shortage of important smaller details that have
fallen off of the public’s radar. One of these is the overseas
territory of Gibraltar, a tiny territory with a population of about 32,000
that shares a border with Spain.
Now that Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement has passed in the Commons and
the UK looks sure to leave on January 31st, politicians on both sides of the
Channel will have to focus their attention on this complicated territory, which
is also set to leave the EU on the same day.
Let’s take a look at some of the key issues that have not been resolved in
the WA that will likely become sticking points as negotiations on the future
relationship between the UK and EU kick off this year.
The most important sticking issue with Gibraltar concerns sovereignty. The
territory was taken from Spain and became part of the UK all the way back in
1713. Since then, it has operated essentially as an outpost of the UK, with
distinctly British identity and the vast majority of residents holding UK
citizenship. Three centuries later this continues to be a thorny diplomatic
problem, with Spain
continuing to claim that it is Spanish territory, a position that has been
amplified since the Brexit vote.
Gibraltar may be small, but it is an economic tiger in the region. There is
less than 1% unemployment, and its per-capita GDP of around £52,000 is one of
the highest in Europe. The vast majority of trade to and from Gibraltar passes
through the Spanish (EU) border, meaning that the economy is dependent on
whatever trade arrangement is expected to be negotiated this year. In addition,
Gibraltar’s economy has been propelled by the online gambling industry in
recent years. The proliferation of innovative pay by phone casino
companies that allow people to play the latest online slots from their mobile
is a huge contributor to the local economy, as are other niches of the iGaming
sector. Since the gambling industry is governed by UK laws, it will be
interesting to see how the EU reacts during negotiations.
Travel & Migration
Every single day, thousands of people from both sides of the border take
advantage of EU Freedom of Movement to work in Gibraltar and Spain. While
Gibraltar, just like the UK, is not in the Schengen Area (meaning that there
are checks and passport controls at the border), the likely end of free
movement in January could cause major headaches for those who live in Spain but work
in Gibraltar, and vice versa. There are also European nationals living in
Gibraltar who, due to FoM, never felt the need to gain permanent residency
status in the UK territory. This will also have to change as the UK detaches
itself from the EU’s migratory arrangements.
Based on what we know so
far, the UK government has no intention of ceding the sovereignty of Gibraltar
to the EU or to Spain anytime soon. This means that unique arrangements will
have to be made for this historic roc
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