The Gibraltar Government would urge the UK to “stop Brexit completely” if MPs vote against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement next week, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said yesterday.
Speaking to GBC after returning to Gibraltar from London yesterday, Mr Picardo highlighted two important developments this week which he said had opened up new possibilities as the UK Parliament grapples with the Brexit divorce deal this week.
The first is the advice of an advocate general of the European Court of Justice – yet to be formally adopted by the court itself – who said the UK was able to step back from Brexit unilaterally by withdrawing its Article 50 notification.
The second is the so-called ‘Grieve amendment’ which would give the UK Parliament control over the deal should MPs reject it next week.
“If Mrs May’s deal does not pass, we would not be seeking a second referendum,” Mr Picardo said.
“We would be saying, ‘stop Brexit altogether’.”
Mr Picardo defended his government’s position that, given the choices before the UK Parliament right now, the best option both for the UK and Gibraltar would be to embrace Mrs May’s agreement.
But he said too that Gibraltar’s preferred outcome was to remain within the EU, hence the importance of the developments this week.
“These are opportunities that we haven’t been able to consider before because they’ve just arisen in the last 48 hours,” he said.
But there are different views emerging of what Gibraltar’s elected MPs believe are the best options for Gibraltar moving forward.
In a letter to The Times, GSD MP Daniel Feetham said the withdrawal agreement “is not in the best interests of the UK or Gibraltar”.
The letter was sent last week but was published yesterday, a day after Mr Picardo wrote an opinion column in the same newspaper championing the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
Mr Feetham took a different tack and, while acknowledging that Mrs May had done what was possible under very difficult circumstances, said he favoured a People’s Vote and a choice between the agreement and remaining in the EU.
Both contributions were published against the backdrop of a divisive debate in the House of Commons ahead of a vote on the deal next Tuesday, in which MPs are widely expected to reject the agreement.
In his letter, Mr Feetham said the deal did not deliver what Brexiteers had been promised by Mrs May. Not only that, it was worse than staying in the EU on current terms.
“It is unlikely to satisfy anyone and will leave the country more divided than ever,” Mr Fetham said.
The GSD MP said the EU’s strategy of concluding the withdrawal agreement before commencing the negotiations on the future relationship had placed Gibraltar “in a phenomenally difficult position”.
“We want more Europe, not less,” he said.
“The withdrawal agreement simply preserves the status quo for Gibraltar for the next two years until the UK negotiates a permanent relationship with the EU.”
“Already the Spanish government has said that it will seek joint sovereignty as a condition of that permanent relationship.”
“That will never be acceptable to the people of Gibraltar and there is a real risk that, at some point in the near future, Gibraltar will crash out of the EU without a permanent deal.”
He concluded: “If Mrs May’s deal is defeated in parliament, the people should be given a final say between the only two realistic alternatives, a no-deal Brexit or Remain.”
“That is why I support a People’s Vote.”