Update 2016-06-24: Gibraltar on Thursday voted in favor of the UK staying in the European Union, by an incredible margin of 96% to 4%. However, the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU, meaning that Gibraltar can expect to get pulled out with it, against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
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|Right: Map of Gibraltar by Eric Gaba (source; CC BY-SA)|
Left: Gibraltar's location in Europe (based on this Wikimedia Commons map by TUBS; CC BY-SA)
Last month, PolGeoNow's Evan Centanni and Meihsing Kuo visited the small British territory of Gibraltar (pronounced "jih-BRALL-ter"), one month ahead of the UK's referendum on whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU).
Gibraltar, a tiny peninsula connected to Spain - and claimed by the Spanish government - is the only British overseas territory that's part of the EU. It's also the only external territory whose residents are eligible to vote in the so-called "Brexit" referendum without living in the UK proper. ("Brexit" is an abbreviation for "British exit" from the EU.)
|Gibraltar flies the European Union flag (left), the flag of the United Kingdom (middle), and its own flag (right)|
Because Gibraltar and Spain are both part of the EU, residents of both are free to live or work in the other. Thousands of people live in Spain, where food and rent are cheaper, and commute to work in Gibraltar, where wages and employment are higher. Gibraltar residents also rely on the semi-open border for access to affordable goods from Spain. But that could all come grinding to a halt if the UK decides to leave the union.
|The entire border of Spain (background) and Gibraltar (foreground), as seen from the Rock of Gibraltar. The border runs approximately along the far edge of the airport facilities. Click to see the picture at full size. (Photo by Meihsing Kuo)|
Gibraltar is a special EU territory that's outside the Customs Union and the Schengen Area, so there are still passport and customs checks at the border (though they seemed pretty lax to us). But in pre-EU days, Spain closed the border altogether as a way of protesting British control of the peninsula.
|Crossing the border from Spain into Gibraltar. In the background is the Rock of Gibraltar.|
As a funny side-effect of Gibraltar's position on a tiny peninsula, all traffic across the border has to cross the runway of the Gibraltar airport. There are only five or ten airplane takeoffs and landings each day, but each time there is one, cars and pedestrians have to wait for it to finish before they can go from Spain to Gibraltar or back. A planned traffic bypass is years overdue.
|The Gibraltar Parliament building|
|Gibraltar vehicle plates have their own country code - GBZ.|
|Gibraltar government promoting voter turnout in the "Brexit" referendum|
In any case, Gibraltarians want to be heard, even if only as justification to demand help from the UK if they do get pulled out of the EU. Because of the Gibraltar's heavy dependence on the border, all three of the territory's political parties are campaigning for the UK to remain in the union. And what about regular voters? A local newspaper poll found that 88% of people who planned to vote supported staying in the EU.
|The Gibraltar chapter of Britain's anti-Brexit "Stronger In" campaign has a prominent office on the town's main street.|
|Continued EU membership is uncontroversial in Gibraltar. "I'm In" stickers show many local businesses' open support of the campaign to vote against leaving the EU.|
It's hard to say exactly what will happen to Gibraltar if the UK does choose to quit the European Union - and that uncertainty is part of what most Gibraltarians are trying to avoid. For now Gibraltar seems content to be a British territory: residents have already twice voted against joining Spain. But if they feel betrayed and abandoned by a UK that wants no part in the EU, could demands for greater autonomy or even independence be around the corner? Only time will tell.
Photos and text by Evan Centanni, except where specified otherwise. All rights reserved.