It’s a rock in the Mediterranean, that we know. It has monkeys and a cable car and some caves. It is kind of British, kind of Spanish, kind of Moroccan. And it is a fabulous place to live. So what’s the deal with Gibraltar being hassled by Spain right now?
I lived in Gibraltar as an expat between the ages of 16 and 18. Gibraltar was my ‘coming of age’ place, and holds fond memories in my heart. I lived as a Brit, enjoying the British forces way of life, but above all I lived with Gibraltarians of different races and creeds and cultures. It is a way of life all of its own, and it is precious.
Gibraltar exposed me to things I had not experienced before. I sat alongside Jewish and Catholic friends at a British system school; I ate new spicy foods that had not tantalised my tongue before; I sailed in seas I had not dangled my feet in before; I walked on sands that I had not felt between my toes before.
Gibraltar has a freedom to it and it enjoys a great economy, is pretty crime free and is small, not perfect, but fantastical in its own right. The people are warm, generous and I hold so many memories in my heart of time spent with them.
I referred to Gibraltar when describing why I moved to the USA:
‘When I’ve lived abroad before, it’s invited in all my senses and I can close my eyes now and feel the humidity of Gibraltar, recollect the crazy juxtaposed sounds of Moroccan bazaars and Naval ceremonies and taste the salt water splashing over my face whilst speeding over the waves of the Mediterranean. It’s all as clear as day, knowing who I was talking to, what we said, how we felt, what that meant for me then and how it impacts on me now. That’s what I’m talking about – experience; because real experience enriches me to make me the person I am now, and if I don’t get anymore experiences soon, I’m not going to grow as a person. And that , for me, is pretty damn fricking scary.’
So, Gibraltar played a huge part in making me the person I am now, in helping to make choices and take risks, to be open-minded, respectful of other people’s cultures, beliefs and lifestyles.
So hands off, Spain. The people of Gibraltar want to be British. My friends say so, and so do their children and I am sure it will be like that for generations to come.
Three hundred years after the tiny enclave of Gibraltar was handed to Britain by Spain as part of the treaty of Utrecht – the Rock had been occupied nine years before – its possession remains a running sore in relations between London and Madrid.
The evacuation of the civilian population during the second world war and a 16-year border closure between 1969 – 1982 (for pedestrians) and 1985 (for other traffic) were the most serious crises in living memory.
In 1982, Margaret Thatcher also agonised over its vulnerability to attack from Spain during the Falklands conflict – and there have also been disputes over fishing rights.
In the past five decades, whether under the dictatorship of General Franco, who called the Rock a “dagger in the spine of Spain” or the restored parliamentary democracy, Madrid has involved royalty in its battle to regain control.
Diplomatic efforts by Thatcher and Tony Blair to broker proposals for joint sovereignty were repelled in referendums in 1967 and 2002 (by 98.9% of voters in the later poll), while local politicians have encouraged the territory’s development as a hub for offshore banking and online gambling.
Over the past decade some co-operation between governments existed, even as Spain continued its sovereignty claims. In 2006, ministerial delegations from Britain, Gibraltar and Spain signed the Cordobá agreement on joint use of the airport, pension compensation for former Spanish workers on the Rock and upgraded telecoms links.
In July 2009, the then foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, became the first Spanish cabinet minister to visit Gibraltar for the first time in more than three centuries.
Today Spain is making things as hard as possible for Gibraltarians to cross into Spain. This last week they experienced traffic delays of more than an hour in what Gibraltar and the UK believes is deliberate retaliation by Spain for Gibraltar’s decision to drop several tons of concrete artificial reef in its territorial waters, disputed by Spain, where Spanish fishing vessels have been scouring for shellfish.
Delays at the border were up to seven hours in sweltering temperatures last weekend.
Please Spain, leave the Gibraltarians alone. I just hope that rock is as strong as they say…and from what I remember, I think it just might be.
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued – and she still hasn’t finished that novel, but she’s working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England.