The Gibraltar Government has accused the Opposition of ‘disgracefully undermining the interests of Gibraltar’ through its criticism of the government’s response to Brexit.
No 6 Convent Place was reacting to a GSD statement this weekend which accused the Chief Minister of a ‘utopian’ pursuit of “separatist agendas” that both the UK and the EU had discarded.
The Opposition suggested Fabian Picardo was more interested in photo opportunities than realism in the face of the challenges posed by Brexit.
But the government hit back and said the GSD’s statement was “almost couched in the language of surrender”, particularly as it came ahead of the visit to the Campo today of Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.
It highlighted the extensive lobbying work conducted by the government, most recently in Brussels and Scotland, and said it was “disgraceful” that the GSD should belittle this work.
“The best outcome for Gibraltar will be achieved through negotiations, through being informed, through building alliances and putting our position clearly and honestly to the British Parliament and the British people,” Mr Picardo said in a lengthy statement issued last night.
“The duty of [the Gibraltar Government] is to ensure that no stone is left unturned in the protection of our sovereignty and our economy.”
Mr Picardo said the Gibraltar Government was working closely with every sector of the economy, including the unions, commerce and the finance and gaming sectors, whose concerns and priorities would be put directly to the British Government.
“It is hard, however, to see how we will be able to work with the GSD and Mr Feetham given the partisan way they are making their arguments to date,” he said, adding that it was “hard to see” why the GSD wanted to form part of the parliamentary Select Committee on Brexit.
Mr Picardo said the government would continue to “work relentlessly” as a team to defend all that was important to Gibraltar.
He said he and deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia had met with members of the British Government and with the leaders of the devolved administrations and would continue to do so.
The move toward Brexit raised not just economic and political challenges but also constitutional and legal issues that would have to be addressed.
“We will work to turn those to Gibraltar’s advantage where possible and it is sad that the GSD should consider the relentless meetings and lobbying we are doing are just ‘photo opportunities’,” Mr Picardo said, adding that there was also considerable “quiet diplomacy” behind the scenes.
“We have every confidence that the British Government and the British people are firm and resolved on defending our sovereignty and our right to self-determination,” the Chief Minister said.
“It is on that premise that they expect us to put forward all the best and strongest arguments that will lead to our continued prosperity and development under the British flag in accordance with the democratic rights we have fought so hard to achieve.”
“Had the GSD’s simplistic and pessimistic attitude been followed at the time of the Lisbon Agreement, the Brussels Agreement and the joint-sovereignty drive, we would have walked ‘hand in hand’ into surrendering our birthright to Spain.”
“What is clear is that never in our history, when faced with challenges of this magnitude, has an Opposition broken ranks so swiftly and early to scurry off towards surrender.”
“The Opposition’s pessimistic and uninspiring position amounts to telling Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo that their message is ‘Maybe, Jose’ to his threats as opposed to the Government’s clear and emphatic ‘No way, Jose’.”
“That is not acceptable to my government or to the people of Gibraltar.”
In its statement at the weekend, the GSD highlighted a response to a briefing by Mr Picardo in Brussels at which he argued for Gibraltar to be allowed to have a special arrangement within the EU in the Brexit treaty.
Karel Lannoo, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for European Studies, was at the briefing and expressed a lukewarm response.
Mr Lannoo was quoted in a media report saying that “…the views of the Chief Minister were rather utopian, and … either the UK would keep the four freedoms, or Gibraltar would suffer the consequences.”
The GSD picked on the quote to illustrate its wider criticism of Mr Picardo’s handling of the fallout after the June 23 referendum.
But yesterday, the Gibraltar Government said the GSD should have checked its facts instead of “rubbing its hands with glee and falling over to highlight something negative”.
According to the government, Mr Lannoo arrived at the conference in Brussels with “none other than” the son of Spain’s caretaker Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.
They sat together during the session and Sr Margallo left the conference a few minutes before Mr Lannoo made his comments, No 6 Convent Place said.
“Mr Lannoo’s comments were the only negative comments made in respect of Gibraltar’s post-Brexit opportunities and while there is of course nothing wrong with Mr Margallo’s son listening to the Chief Minister’s address – indeed it has happened before – there is an obvious connection between this and the comments which followed that Mr Feetham has clearly missed,” the government statement said.
“Mr Lannoo is involved with important Spanish commercial interests and his attitude should be no surprise and will not determine what the Government continues to work to try to achieve for Gibraltar.”
“In his overriding eagerness to embarrass the Chief Minister, the reality is that Mr Feetham has only embarrassed himself.”
No 6 Convent Place added that it was working very closely with the British Government “precisely” so that Gibraltar can have “a real voice” in negotiations and seek to persuade politicians and officials that the Rock’s interests, which have been protected through EU membership, should continue to be protected as the UK responds to the June 23 referendum result.
“The suggestion that Gibraltar should always cave in to whatever may be on offer will be music to the ears of Sr Margallo who is lobbying all of Europe and the UN in an attempt to cow Gibraltar into accepting a sovereignty deal,” the government statement added.
“Mr Feetham may have his own reasons for advocating submission to a hard Brexit but the nations of the UK have made very clear that their position is that they will press for the best outcome for their people. Gibraltar is no different.”