Perched on the edge of Europe, just 14 kilometres from north Africa, the British overseas territory of Gibraltar has a unique view of Brexit. It provided the first – and least surprising – result of the EU referendum, with 96% of its inhabitants voting to remain, in what was otherwise a night of shocks.
So what effect does chief minister Fabian Picardo believe Brexit will have on Gibraltar?
“Brexit means a change of course for Gibraltar, but it doesn’t mean a change of outcome in terms of our vision of where we will be in the next decade and the next half-century,” he says.
Mr Picardo reports an upsurge in investment into Gibraltar in the past year. For example, he says a world trade centre that opened in the territory in February has proved so popular that it has had to turn away clients. To meet the demand, two more world trade centres are being considered.
The economy is also benefiting from Gibraltar’s proximity to north Africa. “Business people wanting to establish themselves in north Africa, but with families who want to be on the European continent or attend British schools, are basing themselves here to do business there,” says Mr Picardo.
“Gibraltar is also doing excellent work in financial technology and is seen as a leader in its time zone for ease of use and regulations and – in keeping with the British system and rule of law – ease of settlement of disputes, and this has helped encourage Far East investors to start making investments.”
Although the territory has access to the EU's single market, Mr Picardo says the Gibraltarian government has learnt since the UK's EU referendum in June 2016 that it has never really made the most of the opportunities of EU membership.
“Ninety per cent of our business is with the UK,” he says. “In the aftermath of the referendum, I sought assurances from [then] prime minister David Cameron – and [current prime minister] Theresa May – that the freedom of trade between Gibraltar and UK would be maintained in services.
“The other interesting thing is that the remaining 10% of our business is not with Paris or Berlin; it’s with Dublin, Valletta and Nicosia. What has become obvious is that we are trading principally with common law jurisdictions with the advantage of freedom of movement of services.
“The UK says it will do trade deals in goods and services with other nations around the world. Those that are especially interesting to us are the ones that relate to nations that have legal systems like our own and share a common language with us. So if the UK does trade deals with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US and India, then that will have opened up markets for Gibraltar – 2 billion people that share a common language and common legal system with us.”
Although Mr Picardo is reluctant to be drawn on the risks of Brexit, he says that the Gibraltar government began analysing the consequences of leaving the EU before the referendum result.
He says: “We looked over the precipice and understood the risks. It’s an exercise that we have to keep doing because it’s a fluid political agenda that’s in play. We have a very deep understanding what those risks are to Gibraltar. We are planning for them. We also see what the opportunities are – and are planning for them.”