Brexit: Behind the Headlines in Spain

Amanda Vasi is a student at Agnes Scott College and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain.

Before studying abroad in Spain, I did not know too much about the European Union (EU) other than it was primarily created after WWII as an economical and political alliance to harvest peace and restore financial security among the major neighboring European countries. However, I did not yet realize what all that meant. Only until living in an EU-member country and sharing vibrant conversations with the locals have I grasped more of what it truly means to be a part of the EU. With a single-market, citizens of any of the present 28-member countries are free to work, study or travel back and forth as the opportunity arises without restrictions or validated governmental approval in the form of a Visa. These countries can also trade freely among one another without any imposed tariffs on goods and services. In 2014 the EU was one of the strongest economies in the world with 23.8% of the nominal global GDP. After UK’s recent announcement of its departure from the EU, the world was approached with ambiguity of what this decision would mean, especially in Spain, a majority pro-EU country still recovering from its 2008 economic crisis. I will attempt to go under the headlines of these issues in this article.

Spain demonstrating its allegiance to the EU with the flying blue EU flag, positioned right in front of the Spanish and Andalucía flags.

Brexit: What happened?

With the rise of the Vote Leave campaign in Great Britain, the beginning formation of Brexit, an acronym for Britain’s exit from the EU, with the referendum held in June 2016. Of the 71.8% of the eligible voters in the UK, 51.9% voted ‘yes’ in the separation of the UK from the EU; however, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have voted to remain in the EU.  Theresa May, Britain’s post-referendum prime minister, activated Article 50, an agreement signed in the Treaty of Lisbon that gives a country the ability to leave the EU, on March 29, 2017. As a result, the UK will not only be the first EU-member country to leave the EU, but also is expected with uncertainty to complete the separation process within two years. The primary reasons behind UK’s decision to leave the EU is the desire to regain full control of its borders and the belief the EU’s polices was only holding it back as a sovereign country.

What Does Brexit Mean to Spain? 

Although it’s difficult to be certain of Brexit’s effect on other countries until the negotiations are finalized, many issues have been raised after the announcement in Spain. There is a concern that Spain’s strong trading relationship with the UK may be impacted negatively after UK’s transition out of the single EU market. Currently, the UK is the fourth largest market for Spain’s goods and services and it’s uncertain how many of these trade flows will be disrupted post-Brexit.

Santander UK, a British Bank owned by the Spanish Santander Group, in the center of Granada, Spain.

In addition to trade relations, another major concern is the continuous, large flow of migration between Spain and the UK. British tourists represent about 25% of the total number of visitors to Spain and according to the National Statistics Institute, approximately 300,000 Britons are permanent residents in Spain. On the other side, the UK is the top destination for Spanish immigration with about 100,000 Spaniards living throughout the UK as calculated by the Spanish Statistical Institute. After Brexit, it’s not clear if these citizens and tourists will be still able to freely access healthcare, housing, work permits and Visa-free travel once UK’s separation is finalized. For Spanish and British citizens who already have established lives and steady jobs in each other’s respective countries, this topic with undefined answers is one that especially raises some anticipation for what will occur.

Another important issue raised is the amount of Federal Direct Investment (FDI) between Spain and the UK. While Spain has the largest investment in the UK’s financial services with banks such as Santander and Sabadell, the UK is the 5th largest investor in Spain, especially in the telecoms and tobacco industries. With these closely tied and invested relationships, it’s uncertain what economic costs or financial turbulences will be produced while the UK transitions away from the freedom of capital granted within the EU.

And What about Gibraltar?

Despite its being on the edge of South frontier of Spain, Gibraltar, a small land in the shape of a rock, has been a UK-owned territory since the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Since then, Spain has been under constant dispute between the control of the territory, which heighted during the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco who closed Gibraltar’s borders in 1969. Reopened in 1985, Gibraltar has become the 2nd richest territory in the EU, depending upon free trade within the Union.

Of the near population of 32,000 citizens, the majority identity as Gibraltarians but there are also large British and Spanish minorities that have made the land their home, welcoming its 12 million tourists and estimated 10,000 Spanish citizens who travel daily to Gibraltar for work. Many Gibraltarians see being a part of the EU as a form of protection and freedom from Spain’s still persistent sovereignty claim on the territory as well as for achieving their own economic independence. Therefore, when it came to vote for the UK referendum, it’s not a surprise 96% of the citizens in Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU in a high voter turnout of 83%.

After the finalization of Brexit, it’s uncertain how Gibraltar will be affected as a UK-owned colony and as a still reminiscent, disputed territory between Spain and the UK. There are concerns on the EU-citizens living and working in Gibraltar and what will happen as a result of UK’s shift from the free movement of people guaranteed in the EU. A more pressing concern is the reopening of the unresolved disputes among Spain and the UK, causing some Gibraltarians to fear another closing of the border as in 1969. For José García-Maragallo, the prior Spanish minister of foreign affairs, the solution is co-sovereignty between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar; however, only time will tell what decision will be made to handle this 3-century territorial conflict.

The UK and the Gibraltarian flags decorated side-by-side over a restaurant located in a plaza in Gibraltar.


Taken as a whole, the UK’s announcement of its departure from the EU has raised important concerns over the economic, territorial and migratory implications of this final decision within Spain and Gibraltar, the once Spanish territory lost to the UK. While the UK’s separation process takes off, hopefully the uncovered impacts will be made more clear so Spanish, British and Gibraltarian citizens alike can be at peace once more.

The world awaits…discover it.


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