Daniel Feetham yesterday confirmed his decision to step down as Leader of the GSD citing the impact politics has had on his family, particularly his wife and children.
“They must come first,” an emotional Mr Feetham told reporters at a conference at party headquarters yesterday.
Flanked by his GSD colleagues he reiterated that he will remain in Parliament as a GSD MP.
The GSD’s deputy leader, Roy Clinton, will step up as party leader on an interim basis until the permanent leader is elected, most likely after the summer.
Mr Feetham said he has yet to decide whether he will put his name forward to stand as an MP at the next election.
But, he said: “The time for Danny Feetham has gone.”
Setting out his reasons for stepping aside, Mr Feetham reflected on the repercussions for his family of the knife attack he suffered in 2010.
“This was an incident that had deep repercussions, repercussions and scars that have not healed,” he said.
“The reality is that in 2011 I should have chosen my family above my party.”
He chose to stay, he said, after former GSD Leader Sir Peter Caruana told him the party would stand a better chance of winning the 2011 election with him in their ranks.
Taking over from Sir Peter as Leader, however, represented an “absolutely colossal task”, and the past six years had not been easy, Mr Feetham said.
“People cannot imagine how difficult a task it has been,” he said.
“I have attempted to do so with dignity and above all courage but of course in the only style that I know and that is by holding the government to account on the issues that I believe are the big issues of the day for Gibraltar.”
“Leadership is a very, very lonely place at the best of times but over the last six years it has been particularly lonely for me in that job of not only holding the government to account but also pulling my political party forwards in very difficult circumstances.”
Mr Feetham had made no secret of his intention to stand down with the issue becoming one of timing and ensuring the stability of the party and a solid succession.
“I have given everything I can and I cannot give more,” he said.
“Now is the time to think about Julia and my children.”
While the pressure placed on his family life was front and centre in his decision, he conceded that his authority had been seriously undermined by the actions of former GSD MP Lawrence Llamas.
Mr Feetham explained that all GSD MPs, including Mr Llamas, attended a meeting on June 1 and took the decision to vote against the budget on the basis that it was not responsible to approve “an incomplete set of accounts”.
But Mr Llamas broke ranks with his colleagues and voted with the Government in favour of the Appropriation Bill.
After Mr Feetham had privately informed the GSD executive of his decision to stand aside, Mr Llamas then announced publicly that he was resigning from the GSD.
“Mr Llamas knew full well that I was stepping aside before he took the decision to issue the latest statement resigning from the GSD,” he said.
“To say that he is resigning because of issues with me as party Leader is dishonest to say the least.”
He therefore described Mr Llamas’ actions as “appallingly politically dishonest” and “stage-managed to cause the GSD maximum possible damage”.
According to Mr Clinton, Mr Llamas had given no indication that he was going to vote with the Government and no indication that he was unhappy with the position that the GSD was taking on the matter.
Mr Clinton said Gibraltar owed Mr Feetham “a debt of gratitude” for his commitment to public life over so many years, which had gone “well beyond the call of duty”.
GSD MP Elliot Phillips said Mr Feetham had been “an extremely strong leader” whose absence at the helm would be a loss not just for the GSD but for Gibraltar as a whole.
He added that he was positive about the future of the GSD.
Edwin Reyes, who has served alongside Mr Feetham both in government and in opposition, said he was “a true leader”.
“He leads by example and that will go down in the history books of our GSD,” he said.
GSD MP Trevor Hammond was not present at the press conference because he is ill.
Mr Feetham added that it has been an “absolute privilege and honour” to serve the people of Gibraltar in his various political capacities over the past 18 years.
He has served as Leader of the Labour Party, Chairman of the GSD, Gibraltar’s first Minister for Justice, deputy and Leader of the Opposition.
“I am just grateful to god and I’m grateful to the people of Gibraltar that they have entrusted me with these various roles over those 18 years,” he said.
He added that he planned to act as a “fountain of support” for whoever takes over as Leader of the party.
In a statement the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo called on the public to respect Mr Feetham’s decision as well as respect for his privacy and that of his family.
“I have spoken this morning to Daniel Feetham. I have expressed to him my personal support in respect of the matters which have led to him making this decision,” Mr Picardo said.
“I have no doubt it has been a difficult one for him.”
Politics at the highest level, he said, takes a huge toll on the families of those on the front line.
“I would therefore ask that the public, in particular on social media, should respect Daniel’s decision.”
“I call also for respect for his privacy and that of his family.”
“We must all be deeply understanding of the reasons Daniel has given for his decision.”
“I have conveyed to Daniel my personal best wishes to him and his family, in particular his wife Julia and their children, at this time of transition for them.”
“Daniel remains a Member of Parliament and I look forward to continuing engagement with him in the context of that work.”
“In particular, I want to highlight the importance of respect for the crucial role of the Opposition MPs in our democracy.”
“To this end, I have spoken to Mr Clinton a few moments ago to ensure we can be in such direct contact as his current interim role may require.”