Brexit has re-ignited the debate over Gibraltar’s relationship with Spain. UCLan principal lecturer Nicky Danino is a Gibraltarian and explains what being British means to people from Europe’s most famous rock.
As a Gibraltarian living in Lancashire I always get an animated show of interest when people discover where I’m from.
‘But, how do you feel? Are you English or are you Spanish?’ I’ve lost count of how many times I have been asked this question, but the answer is always the same, ‘Neither, I’m from Gibraltar, and I’m British.’
A quick look around Gibraltar will reveal red phone boxes, bobbies in the familiar uniform, and shops with names above their doors such as Marks & Spencer, Next and Morrisons. Yet looking up into the clear blue sky, and listening to the olive-skinned locals rambling down the main street, it’s obvious we are not in the UK.
A quick poll of some of my friends in Preston shows that people in the UK know very little about Gibraltar, apart from the fact that it has some famous monkeys, is a big rock, and maybe quite possibly an island? Maybe they think that people in Gibraltar don’t pay tax, or that the UK fund the schools and the hospitals.
Gibraltar is located at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula (that’s the area in Europe that contains Spain, Portugal, Andorra, a bit of France and Gibraltar). It’s definitely not an island as it shares a border with Spain. It’s pretty small, at only 2.6 square miles and with a population of 38,000 it certainly can become crowded at times, especially if you count the macaque residents!
And people do pay income tax, which is used to fund the services such as the hospital, schools and the health system.
Gibraltar was captured by the British Fleet in 1704 during the war of the Spanish Succession. On August 4, 1704, an Anglo-Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral George Rooke took Gibraltar from the Spanish.
Under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 Gibraltar was perpetually ceded to Britain. When people ask me “what’s wrong with giving Gibraltar back to Spain”, I remind them that if we are giving Gibraltar “back” to anyone, it should be the Moors. The name “Gibraltar” stems from the Arabic “Jabal Tariq”, after the Muslim commander Tariq Ibn-Ziyad, who turned “the Rock” into a fortress in 711 AD. This long and colourful history has resulted in a very diverse (though united) population. Most Gibraltarians are bilingual in English and Spanish, and are of mixed Genoese, British, Spanish, Jewish, Maltese and Portuguese descent.
We do all, of course, also speak “Llanito” which we consider to be our own Gibraltarian language, often mistaken for “Spanglish” by outsiders, but is actually a language in its own right. Ask any Gibraltarian why they don’t want to be Spanish and their answer is pretty much always they same ‘Because we’re British!’
Finding a Gibraltarian who will admit to wanting to be Spanish is the same as finding a fairy at the bottom of your garden, they just don’t exist. Never has there been a nation so united in knowing what they want.
Many Gibraltarians still remember that momentous day in 1969 when General Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, closed the border with Gibraltar.
At times like these, comparisons to that era are being made, yet when Gibraltarians meet in the street they constantly remind each other that they survived that period, in fact, they’ve survived countless other sieges (14 to be exact) throughout history, and if they go under siege again, they will survive again. Yet why are the people there more willing to close the border to Spain than hand over their British passports in exchange for Spanish ones?
Where has this sense of Britishness stemmed from, and this clarity that displays an overwhelming desire to fly the Union Jack alongside the Castle and Key (the official flag of Gibraltar)?
This is probably a deep-rooted question, which involves a very long and nuanced answer, but it suffices to say, that at the last referendum in 2002, there was a vote in about whether or not Britain and Spain should share Gibraltar.
But almost everyone (99 per cent of people living in Gibraltar) said they didn’t want that to happen, so Gibraltar remains a part of Britain.
However, in spite of centuries of disputes over the sovereignty of this tiny piece of land, and the people’s open desire to be British, Gibraltar is, now more than ever, the Rock of the Gibraltarians. I am British, and I most certainly do not want to be Spanish, but first and foremost I’m Gibraltarian.
And this stays in my heart wherever I go. Never is this more profound than on the September 10, Gibraltar National Day, my National Day. While I often find myself in Preston on this day as opposed to on Gibraltar, I still make a point of dressing up in my national colours, and hanging up the Gibraltar flag.
I reminisce of what my fellow Gibraltarians are doing as they take to the streets to celebrate this national holiday, where we come together as a nation and as a people, to embrace being Gibraltarian. And I love sharing this occasion with my Lancashire friends.
There is an old superstition in Gibraltar that if the apes leave the Rock, then the British will leave with them. I can only ponder on this and think that if the British leave then the Gibraltarians will too.
As a previous Gibraltarian Chief Minister once declared “There is more chance of hell freezing over than the people of Gibraltar accepting Spanish sovereignty in any shape or form.”
As long as there are Gibraltarians on the Rock, the Spanish flag will never fly over Gibraltar. That remains the democratically stated desire of the people of Gibraltar.