Despite the threat of a negative result in the promised UK referendum on the country’s continued EU membership, Gibraltarians are still placing their faith in a business they feel has a buoyant future.
E-gaming has become a dominant player in Gibraltar’s booming economy, but British Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s permanence in the European Union by 2017 represents an unwelcome wager for Gibraltar, whose economic welfare depends on the territory remaining a part of the EU.
Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has gone on record as saying that Britain’s exit from the EU would represent an “existential” threat to the territory, not only because the future of the local economy is predicated on it remaining a gateway to Europe for overseas companies, but also politically in that Britain’s exit from the Union would surely invite Spain to push its long-standing claims to sovereignty more aggressively.
“It is a weapon Madrid has used before, trying to bully Gibraltar into a sovereignty arrangement that would have us abandon our inalienable status as a self-governing British Overseas Territory and become an unwilling part of Spain,” Picardo wrote in an opinion piece published on the new Politico Europe website just before the UK general elections in May that gave Cameron’s Conservative Party a surprise absolute majority in Westminster.
Despite the threat, Gibraltar has gone about business as if the putative decision by British voters to depart from the EU would constitute a form of political suicide that only a King Lear in full-blown dementia would deem to contemplate. Pete Burgess, the head of sales and marketing for the new World Trade Center project in Gibraltar, earmarked to be the home for many incoming businesses to the territory, says that the firm interest expressed by companies wishing to rent space in the new building indicates that in a two-horse referendum race, the Brexit remains a rank outsider. The take-up rate on rentals is already 85 percent, and the building hasn’t even been built yet.
But even in the worst-case scenario of an eventual British exit from the EU, a number of local businessmen remain upbeat about Gibraltar’s ability to survive, displaying perhaps a combination of the durability forged by a siege mentality after centuries of living with an awkward neighbour, and impressive immunity to the Mediterranean midday sun. “Gibraltarians have a history of reinventing themselves,” says Ian Felice, a partner with the local law firm Hassans. The residents of the Rock seem to have an unshakeable faith that the odds will always be on their side.
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