The Gibraltar Government clashed on consecutive days with the GSD over the level and nature of briefings the Opposition has received on the current state of play in the Brexit negotiations.
As the latest salvo played out the GSD accused the Government of erecting a smokescreen over its handling of the Brexit negotiations by not addressing the issues it raised in a press conference this week and instead focusing on its comments about the “selective” briefings it is receiving from the Government.
In a statement the GSD added that the Government had failed to address the issues the Opposition had raised in respect of protecting Gibraltar’s interests following the publication of the draft EU withdrawal agreement.
The GSD said it did not issue a statement to complain about the selective briefings it is receiving from No. 6 Convent Place which it described as “superficial and inadequate” in any case.
Reiterating one of the central points it made in the course of a press conference held on Tuesday, the GSD reiterated that the Government should inform the public about the subject areas that the UK and Spain are discussing in terms of a possible bilateral agreement and what the Gibraltar Government is putting on the table and is prepared to negotiate.
But Chief Minister Fabian Picardo subsequently hit back expressing ‘surprise’ at the GSDs comments and insisted that they have “no grounding in reality”.
In doing so he claimed too Mr Azopardi had misunderstood the draft text.
Mr Picardo indicated that the agreed inclusion of Gibraltar in Article three of the document means that all parts of the agreement relate to Gibraltar and its nuanced reality.
“We are still working for a differentiated solution, and he should be fully aware of that from the briefings we have given his colleagues,” Mr Picardo said.
“Whether we can achieve that or not will be a matter that can only be determined at the end of this fraught process that we did not wish upon ourselves.”
In respect of the Government’s briefings with members of the Opposition Mr Picardo explained that No. 6 has given the GSD – in the Brexit Select Committee briefings – a blow by blow account of what is happening and of what the Government is doing.
“They are fully aware of everything that is happening,” he added.
“I am left to wonder if the breakdown of the GSD is such that he is not being briefed by the GSD MPs that attend the Select Committee meetings,” he said calling on GSD Leader Keith Azopardi to clarify that point.
“If Mr Azopardi is being briefed by his colleagues, then he would know that most of what he said yesterday is untrue.”
“Additionally, in the course of these briefings, we routinely ask GSD and Independent colleagues to tell us if they think we should do anything differently or do anything additionally.”
Mr Picardo said they have not done so in any of these meetings, “making Mr Azopardi’s statement yesterday all the more misleading”.
“Secondly, Mr Azopardi will know that I have not agreed to the UK holding bilateral meetings with Spain in relation to Gibraltar.”
“I will never agree to that,” he said.
The UK is meeting bilaterally with all 27 member states.
“Spain raises the issue of Gibraltar as it has done always at those meetings even when the GSD was in Government.”
“He will know that we have insisted on actual trilateral contact or indeed on direct contact with us.”
“And he will know that the GSLP that I lead and the Liberal Party that Joseph Garcia leads will never agree to any concession on any aspect of sovereignty, jurisdiction or control in any respect.”
“It was only the GSD that in its history agreed at one stage to Brussels talks and indeed, the last meeting of the Brussels process happened when they were in power.”
Thirdly, Mr Picardo said, the reality is that this is a complex international issue.
“We are working closely with the UK but also at the same time putting maximum pressure on the UK Government,” he explained.
“Mr Azopardi knows we have lobbied every party in the UK and EU parliaments repeatedly and that we have used all possible mechanisms to up the pressure on the UK.”
It is disingenuous for him to pretend to advise us to do what we are already doing, Mr Picardo said.
“In fact, it is downright misleading and add this to the many reasons why they will not trust him as a political leader.”
“Just today, Spain has again insisted on the 27 repeating for her once again the chorus that the agreements will not apply to Gibraltar unless Spain agrees they should,” he flagged as he insisted that the UK position is unwavering and has not changed.
“We should expect nothing else from Spain other than the usual blinkered belligerence and an attempt to use Brexit for its own advantage.”
“Surely Mr Azopardi is not so naïve as to think that he would be able to persuade Spain to take a different attitude?”
“If he does believe that, he has a higher estimation of his own ability than anyone else in Gibraltar does.”
In respect of the airport, Mr Picardo said the GSD Leader knows it was the GSD that entered into the Cordoba Arrangements and said he is now defending those.
“Interestingly, this is a complete volte face and u-turn for him as he sternly criticized the GSD for entering into those agreements when he was the leader of the PDP.”
“It is not clear what position he takes now.”
For its part, the GSD opted to focus attention on the central points of the statement it made on Tuesday.
This includes that the Government should inform the public about the subject areas that the UK and Spain are discussing in terms of a possible bilateral agreement and what the Gibraltar Government is putting on the table and is prepared to negotiate.
“When the GSD were in Government and were involved in the Trilateral Forum there were regular communiques making clear what areas were being discussed with Spain,” the GSD said adding that that allowed the public to know what issues were on the table.
“We believe the Government should be equally clear with the people of Gibraltar.”
The GSD said it was “surprising” that the Government seem to think it is appropriate for the negotiations to be conducted without even saying publicly what is being discussed.
“The GSD is not playing politics or breaking unity,” it said, adding: “This is nonsense.”
“Accepting to be briefed on a partial basis does not mean that the GSD is surrendering its role to analyse the Withdrawal Agreement or to comment publicly about the Government’s handling of the process.”
The party said the Government decided not to involve the GSD in the negotiations, opting to give the Opposition selective briefings only.
The GSD accepts its Leader was briefed in January twice but added that that is a long time ago in a fast moving scenario.
It is also the case that GSD members of the Brexit Select Committee have been briefed a number of times, the GSD said adding that Mr Azopardi fairly acknowledged this during the press conference.
“But those briefings have been selective and in no way have given the GSD sufficient visibility of the details of the negotiations so as to influence any outcome.”
The GSD added that it has had no access to internal documents or briefing papers.
“It is not involved in the negotiations and in a rapidly moving process the Opposition does not know whether there are draft agreements on the table and are not being shown any documents still less being consulted about the content of formal agreements.”
The GSD said it is simply not true that it has an accurate current visibility of the details of the negotiations.
“What Government cannot do is take the decision not to involve the Opposition on the negotiations and then complain when the Opposition come out with its own analysis,” it said.
It added that the Government’s statement “completely misses the point” that the GSD are saying the Government should inform the public of the subject areas that are under negotiation.
“Today the House of Lords Select Committee are asking the British Government for an update on the discussions with Spain.”
“It would be ironic if more information was available publicly in London than it is in Gibraltar,” the GSD said.
“In so far as the other points made by the GSD in its statement yesterday we note that the Government has not disagreed with the GSD analysis of the state of play or content of the Withdrawal Agreement or our assertion that the Withdrawal Agreement does not protect Gibraltar’s unique features and interests.”