FOTBOT sat down with Laveen Ladharam, a London based lawyer with family connections in Gibraltar, to discuss the territory and how it could be affected by Brexit…
Hello Laveen, what is your background and how are you personally linked to Gibraltar?
My grandmother spent part of her childhood there. Her family moved there in the 1930s have lived there ever since.
Did you visit when you were younger and what were your first impressions of the place?
I first went when I was 8 so I only have a few memories of that trip. During my trip last month, Gibraltar really was a sight to behold. What strikes me first is just how British it is. Not only with some of the road markings or the familiar sights on the high street, like NatWest or Marks and Spencer’s, but how patriotically British the Gibraltarians are. Everywhere you go, there are Union Jacks or a Gibraltar Flags, or both, out of apartments, in local social clubs, on cars. Outwardly, the Gibraltarians are incredibly British and proud of that fact. But at the same time, it's hugely multicultural - British, Spanish, Indian, Jewish, Moroccan, Maltese.
Did you visit during Brexit? What were the Gibraltarian’s thinking prior to the vote?
It was literally the first thing that everyone asked me after I had landed - my cousins, my aunt, my friends and people I met. It’s the main political topic there. Before the vote, I don’t know all the nuances of opinion, but they were obviously very pro-EU.
Gibraltar's success is based on the fact that it is a gateway to Europe. Its financial services, gambling and supporting industries have grown by virtue of the fact that it’s in the EU. They have the benefits that Gibraltar can bring on its own, like low taxes, a common law legal system and accumulated expertise. But its development since the 1990s has been helped by its unique position in the EU.
The border is by far the biggest concern. 32,000 people live on the Rock itself, but during the day an additional 12,000 people living in Spain work in Gibraltar. This will include most of the waiters and staff that work in shops but it also includes younger professionals working in financial services.
Sometimes a political crisis erupts over the border like in 2013 (when Spain forced people to queue at the border for hours in the sweltering heat) and every so often Spain will make things difficult for Gibraltar. For instance, if you ride a bicycle you need a helmet when crossing the border despite the fact that you don't need one to ride a bike in either Spain or Gibraltar. These changes will spring up unannounced and can cause major delays and hassle.
The bigger crises over Gibraltar have been resolved by virtue of the fact that Spain and the UK are members of the EU. Brexit has put that in jeopardy and people are scared of the impact on their daily lives.
Finally, the Gibraltarians are patriotically British and will retain that identity beyond the grave. Brexit has put the prospect of joint Sovereignty with Spain on the table - something that terrifies the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians.
As a lawyer and someone with a close Gibraltar connection, how do you think the British government can make sure the Rock’s concerns are met during Brexit negotiations?
I would say, work out a strategy before negotiating. Under Article 50, Britain has 2 years to reach a deal with the rest of the EU. In those 2 years, the Council can approve a deal by qualified majority (meaning that Spain, on its own, cannot veto the deal) but after those 2 years are up, Spain can veto over any deal.
In terms of what Gibraltar wants:
First, keep the border open. This will require some mechanism to method to resolve any border disputes between Spain and Gibraltar. It will also require some right to live in Spain for British people who work in Gibraltar. Free movement has worked wonders for Gibraltar and losing this freedom will hurt the territory.
Second, passporting rights. Gibraltar's financial services industry gains from its membership of the European Economic Area. Losing these rights may hurt its economy.
Finally, help the BOTs tag along with new trade deals. The muscle of the British government would give Gibraltar (and other territories) a huge opportunity to take advantage of new post-Brexit trade deals.
Do you think overall that the BOTs will fare well from a Brexit and will the process diminish somewhat Gibraltar’s place amongst the BOTs?
There are risks. Some territories might lose funding, others may find themselves on EU blacklists simply because they have competitive tax regimes.
There was such an air of pessimism in Gibraltar over Brexit and most people I spoke to don’t see how it will fare well from Brexit. Britain needs to secure Gibraltar's hinterland (i.e. its access to the European markets) to guarantee its economic stability. If not, it may be able to adapt, but losing access to the single market will hit Gibraltar hard.
How do you think FOTBOT can help address the BOT's concerns, specifically Gibraltar through our activities?
The most important thing is raising Gibraltar’s concerns over Brexit: passporting rights, free movement and joint sovereignty.