Gibraltar is British to the core and its people determined to stay so

Gibraltar is a haven for all kinds of funny business but ‘The Rock’ is British to the core and its people are determined to remain so

  • For decades Madrid’s claims to the Rock have dominated UK-Spanish relations 
  • Much of its income is from customs duties, offshore finance and online gambling
  • Gambling giant Bet365  has based its international operations there since 2014 

With fish and chips and warm beer galore, modern Gibraltar looks for all the world like a little bit of Britain on the Med.

But perched on the very tip of the Iberian peninsula, its omnipresent Union Jacks and souvenir ‘Her Majesty’ mugs are seen as a daily affront by many of its Spanish neighbours.

For decades now, UK-Spanish relations have been dominated by the Rock and Madrid’s repeated claims to sovereignty.

And more recently, it has come under fire for its low-tax regime and financial rules, with over 60,000 companies reportedly registered there – roughly two for each of its 30,000 or so residents.

For decades now, UK-Spanish relations have been dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar (pictured) and Madrid’s repeated claims to sovereignty

With no large-scale agricultural or industrial activity, much of the Rock’s income comes from customs duties, offshore finance, internet gambling and provisioning of ships.

It is also coveted by Royal Navy crews as the ultimate stop-off point after long voyages as a ‘little piece of home’.

Gambling giant Bet365 – whose UK boss Denise Coates last year earned £265 million – has based its international operations there since 2014.

Financial services, tourism, low-tax goods and online gambling are key sectors of the local economy.

This imposing limestone outcrop – home to those famous barbary macaque monkeys – with its strategic position on the western gateway to the Med, has been British for more than 300 years.

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It was formally ceded in perpetuity to Britain in 1713 under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht which brought an end to the War of the Spanish Succession.

Named in Arabic ‘Jabal Tariq’, after the Muslim commander Tariq Ibn-Ziyad who turned the Rock into a fortress in 711, it has been an important naval base for more than 1,000 years.

That long maritime history explains its diverse population, with many residents of mixed Genoese, British, Spanish and Maltese descent.

Most Gibraltarians can speak both English and Spanish.

As a British overseas territory, it is home to a military garrison and has a naval base. But over the past few decades, the EU has sought to put pressure on London and Madrid to resolve its future status.

Gambling giant Bet365 – whose UK boss Denise Coates (pictured) last year earned £265 million – has based its international operations on Gibraltar since 2014

Both sides have tried to arrive at an agreement.

However, Spain’s insistence on eventually obtaining total sovereignty over the territory, allied to the UK’s determination to keep full control of Gibraltar’s military bases, have proved serious stumbling blocks. So too has the local population’s determination to remain British.

The Rock’s 2006 constitution stipulates that there can be no transfer of sovereignty to Spain against the wishes of its voters.

In a referendum in 2002, Gibraltarians resoundingly rejected the idea of joint sovereignty between the UK and Spain.

Free travel between Spain and Gibraltar was fully restored in 1985, but travellers continued to suffer delays at the border.

In late 2006, passenger flights between Spain and Gibraltar resumed for the first time in nearly 30 years, though seven years later there were renewed border checks by Spain in response to a Gibraltarian plan to build an artificial reef.

The 2006 air link was restored after Gibraltar, Spain and Britain signed agreements aimed at improving living conditions on the Rock.

In the 2016 EU referendum, the Rock voted overwhelmingly against Brexit.

And even though the UK overall did not, Gibraltar’s leaders have made clear they prefer to follow the motherland out of the EU.

But for Madrid, Brexit represents a golden opportunity to overturn three centuries of history and stage their own bid to ‘take back control’. 

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