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GSD will be ‘natural home’ for moderate centre ground

GSD will be ‘natural home’ for moderate centre ground

New Year message by GSD Leader Keith Azopardi

When I last spoke to you it was before Christmas and just after the GSD Leadership election.

Then, I explained how I saw the task ahead in the context of the renewal and re-energising
of the GSD. That work has started and I want to see a rebuilt and stronger GSD that once
again is entrusted with the governance of this community. That GSD that we aspire to
energise will – as before – be the natural home for the moderate centre-ground of Gibraltar
politics. It will represent the traditional and core values of the Party: fiscal prudence, socially
progressive, economic liberalism, reforming democratic governance and a robust defence of
our homeland. That Party will be open to and represent all sectors of this community. And
in that transformative process I hope to encourage the renewed participation of members
and former members who took a step back from active involvement as well as attract new
members to our refreshed political platform.

Today and as part of my New Year’s message I want to set out my view on some of the
important issues of the day in response to the Chief Minister’s message of a few days ago.

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There is no doubt that navigating BREXIT and the consequences of BREXIT is the most
important issue in the 12 months that lie ahead. It is the most important issue because it
will influence our economy, the social projects we can undertake and potentially affect our
way of life. It is therefore crucial that we are successful in this task. Nothing less will do.
The first step is to ensure that Gibraltar is extended any beneficial transitional deal and any
eventual beneficial trade deal that the UK strikes with the EU. So far the assurances of Prime
Minister May in the UK Parliament have fallen well short of the categorical promises that we
need. She has said that Gibraltar is included in the negotiations that the UK is conducting
with the EU. But including us in the negotiations is not the same as including us in a
beneficial agreement. It is simply not good enough. The UK’s public assurances need to be
clearer and her resolve more robust.

And no deal can be done unless it has the express consent of the Government and people of
Gibraltar. Our Government must be involved as a key participant in any discussions. We
need to ensure that the UK stands by Gibraltar in a committed way and does not let us
down at the eleventh hour. We need to stand firm as a united community to make sure that
does not happen. We have done so before and can do so again.

Spain are already making noises that they consider that it is up to them whether a beneficial
agreement is extended to Gibraltar. Subjecting Gibraltar and our future to the whim of
Spain is completely unacceptable as is the concept that our future should be decided
bilaterally between Britain and Spain. Our future and whether any agreement is entered
into can only be decided by Gibraltar and its Government.

The latest EU negotiating mandate makes clear that there are clouds on the horizon. As you
know Paragraph 24 of the Negotiating Guidelines published in April stated that “after the UK
leaves the EU no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of
Gibraltar without the agreement between Spain and the UK.” In the Mandate published in
December the EU has reiterated that and stated in Article 5 of the Annex to its Negotiating
Mandate that this applies to the negotiations “including as regards the territorial scope of
the withdrawal agreement, including its provisions on transitional arrangements and of the
future framework….notably as regards Gibraltar.”

It is therefore clearly the case that for the EU there is a willingness to subject the extension
of transitional arrangements or a future trade deal to Gibraltar to a bilateral agreement
between Britain and Spain. This is wholly unacceptable.

We must therefore stay vigilant over the next 12 months. As we enter this crucial period of
negotiations with the EU we must keep the pressure on the UK Government with the help
of our friends in the UK Parliament. The Gibraltar Government needs to ensure it leaves no
stone unturned in its efforts and that it is guaranteed that it will not only participate but
determine what decisions are taken for Gibraltar. There is no more important task in the
year ahead.

For our part the GSD will remain alive to these threats and responsive to developments. We
are ready to participate in any united front that is necessary in the public interest of
Gibraltar.

Domestically and while the Government has given us a positive outlook of the work it is
doing the reality is rather different on the ground for many people. We receive many
approaches from people who suffer deficiencies in healthcare, poor housing conditions or
failures in social care. Much more needs to be done to improve public services and
modernize them. Sometimes there are resources issues. But other times the improvements
cannot just be achieved by throwing money at the problem. They require a more deeprooted
comprehensive approach that changes the way services are delivered. That is so in
health, education, care and housing. It affects families that suffer drug problems, health or
mental health issues or domiciliary care problems.

Equally we need a new and better approach to the interface between planning, land use,
development and heritage. It is not good enough to complacently rely on the fact that some
beneficial reforms to the planning process may have been made. We need to be much more
conscious about properly planning the urban needs of this community and setting out a
long-term and less reactive strategy for development. And the Government must lead by
example by not conducting development on heritage sites or in a way that may encroach on
heritage assets. Tourism is a pillar to our economy and we need to safeguard and conserve
our heritage assets that are an integral part of this aspect of our economy.

We continue to be concerned about the management of public finances and the levels of
borrowing undertaken by the Government. These are unprecedented and in our view both
lack in transparency and are not a prudent way of handling our financial affairs. There needs
to be a focused debt reduction and debt management programme that openly accounts for
all public income, expenditure and borrowing. We will continue to hold the Government to
account on these issues as we consider that there is a much better way of managing public
monies.

On the subject of accountability we are also concerned that the allocation of contracts is
conducted properly. The procurement of public contracts for services that ultimately will be
paid from tax-payer pounds needs to be open, transparent, fair and accountable. There
need to be clearly justifiable reasons for the allocation of contracts to particular companies
and those awarded contracts can expect public scrutiny if unjustifiable decisions are taken.
We are positive about Gibraltar’s future but consider that our affairs should be handled
better. We will not shirk from questioning and constructively criticising Government on such
matters.

You can rest assured that as the Opposition we will work hard to making the future of this
community more prosperous, fair and just so that there are equal opportunities for all,
employment, training or education opportunities for those who need it and better
healthcare, social care or housing.

On behalf of myself and all my colleagues I wish you and your families a happy and healthy
2018.

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