The GSD has called on the Gibraltar Government to put more political pressure on the UK Government following the publication of the draft EU withdrawal agreement which, it claimed, does not sufficiently protect the Rock’s interests.
At a press briefing at the party’s headquarters, GSD Leader Keith Azopardi underscored the need for clarity from the Government as to its specific Brexit aspirations, adding that the people of Gibraltar are entitled to public clarity as to the subject matter areas that are being discussed.
Mr Azopardi, who was joined by Leader of the Opposition Elliott Phillips and GSD MPs Trevor Hammond and Roy Clinton, further explained that the GSD was concerned that the opportunity to safeguard Gibraltar’s long-term interests and recalibrate its relationship with the EU was being lost.
But in taking a swipe at the Government over the ‘lack’ of briefings with the Opposition, he drew a stinging response from No. 6 Convent Place, which said it was “astonished” at both the tone and the content of the GSD’s views on the details of the UK and Gibraltar’s departure from the bloc.
The exchange came a day after the UK and the EU made public a draft legal text covering the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc and the transition period after March 2019.
The agreement explicitly states that Gibraltar is covered by its terms, but also includes a reference to the controversial Clause 24 veto set out in the EU’s negotiating guidelines, which purports to give Spain a deciding voice on the application of any transition deal to Gibraltar.
As such, the GSD yesterday insisted that the agreement does not protect Gibraltar’s interests or objectives sufficiently.
This, the party says, contrasts significantly with the very specific and extensive protocol that gives rights to the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Azopardi said: “It is very clear from the draft withdrawal agreement that was published on February 28, and also the colour-coded version issued [on Monday] that there is a footnote that no one can get away from and the footnote refers to clause 24.”
This, he said, makes clear that the extension of the transitional arrangements is subject to agreement by the UK and Spain.
“No amount of spin by the Government can get us away from that reality,” Mr Azopardi said.
“I know that the Government did its upmost yesterday to present a rosy picture about our inclusion but actually the reverse is true.”
“We are in the text with a very clear footnote that says that whether we are extended that agreement or not will ultimately depend on an agreement with Spain,” he explained.
“The reality is far from the fact that our inclusion is guaranteed.”
“It is not guaranteed and I think it is obvious that there are negotiations going on and what we say is there should be clarity of what exactly is being negotiated,” Mr Azopardi said.
The GSD has therefore called on the Government to explain what its current core objectives are and how it intends to bring these about.
“It cannot be the case that both Government and Opposition in the UK, Spain and the EU set out their specific positions but the Gibraltar Government is unclear about its specific aspirations.”
Mr Azopardi added that Gibraltarians are entitled to ask how the Government currently sees the future and what it is doing to put forward a clear set of objectives, promote them and attempt to secure those objectives.
He added that the party does not expect a publicly rehearsed chapter and verse explanation of the detail of discussions but said in the same way as the UK and the EU have set out their objectives the Gibraltar Government should be clear what it is seeking.
For its part, the GSD said its vision for Gibraltar is clear and includes seeking to secure a trilateral process of discussion on matters that affect the Rock, freedom of movement and single market access beyond Brexit.
The GSD took a swipe at the Government over the lack of Brexit-related briefings reiterating that it had offered its assistance in any process of negotiation with the UK or EU.
“The Government has not taken up this offer and instead just provided the GSD with selective and infrequent general briefings,” the GSD said in a statement.
“It is of course a matter for Government to decide how it wishes to conduct negotiations but it is clear that the GSD is unable to influence any outcome in this way.”
Mr Azopardi, who is not an elected member of the Gibraltar Parliament, explained that he had been briefed twice, the last time in mid-January.
“There are fast-moving developments all the time so since then I’ve got no visibility whatsoever,” he told reporters.
But this drew a stinging reaction from the Gibraltar Government, which said it was “astonished” at both the tone and the content of the Opposition’s views on the details of the UK and Gibraltar’s departure from the bloc.
In a statement, the Government said the Opposition “…do themselves no favours by choosing to play politics with a matter which is ongoing and which is of fundamental importance both to Gibraltar and indeed to the UK itself.”
“The astonishment of the Government is compounded by the fact that the Opposition have not only been fully briefed but have been kept abreast of developments in minute detail by the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, who is the Minister for responsible for work related to Exiting the European Union.”
The Government added that the Opposition briefings have been based on the same information that has been shared with the Cabinet.
Additionally, No. 6 Convent Place said the Opposition have been briefed confidentially seven times since the Select Committee on Brexit was established last year.
This year alone it has been briefed on 15 January, 13 February, 19 February and the latest briefing was this month on 6 March barely a fortnight ago, it added.
“In addition to this, the Leader of the GSD has himself been briefed separately two times.”
“It is true that the last time Mr Azopardi was last briefed directly on 16 January this year.”
“This is because a procedure was agreed whereby the GSD Members on the Select Committee would themselves brief Mr Azopardi in order to avoid duplicate briefings.”
“The difficulty is that Mr Azopardi cannot attend confidential briefings to the Select Committee because he is not an elected Member of Parliament,” No. 6 explained.
“The briefings to the Committee have been held in a positive, friendly and constructive atmosphere on the basis of full disclosure – so that Members know what the Government knows.”
Opportunity has been provided for feedback and for Members to put across their own views to the Government and to alert the Government to any potential issues, it added.
“The reality is that the atmosphere between the Government, the GSD Members and the two Independent Members, who are also briefed, has actually been very good and it is regrettable that Mr Azopardi should now come along to spoil this unity across Parliament.”
“The Opposition therefore know full well what the objectives of the Government are, where the Gibraltar Government is going and what it is prepared to negotiate and for what.”
“They already know all the answers to their own questions,” the Government said.