The Gibraltar Government has ensured that Gibraltar will be “safe and secure” under any eventuality in the chaotic Brexit process, No.6 Convent Place said last night, as it rebutted the latest round of accusations levelled by the GSD over its handling of the withdrawal negotiations.
In a strongly-worded statement, the government accused the GSD and its leader, Keith Azopardi, of an “amateurish” analysis of the divorce deal that betrayed “a lack of substance and basic knowledge” on key issues, as well as cracks in the party’s stance on Brexit.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said he and his team had worked hard to cover all the possibilities facing Gibraltar as the political crisis in the UK reached fever pitch last night.
“We support a revocation of the Article 50 Notice, which would mean we remain in the EU,” he said.
“In the event of a People’s Vote, we will campaign to remain as that is the safest situation for Gibraltar.”
“We have contingency plans for a no deal scenario. And importantly, we have put in place a safety net in the event of their being a Withdrawal Agreement which protects Gibraltar’s interests in the way we have been able to carve out for ourselves.”
“We have conceded nothing in doing so and any suggestion to the contrary is no more than a shallow misunderstanding of the reality of the complex structure of the Agreement and the MoUs.”
“That is the way to have properly protected Gibraltar’s interests in every potential eventuality.”
“I doubt Mr Azopardi has done the full analysis required.”
“He should stop demonstrating his lack of depth or of understanding on this sensitive subject.”
No.6 Convent Place said the GSD had failed to address “the single most important question”, namely that Gibraltar had faced a stark choice between forming part of the Withdrawal Agreement and its transitional period, and thus leaving the EU in an orderly manner, or crashing out of the EU alone in March while the UK enjoyed a soft landing.
It said the GSLP/Liberals had negotiated “wisely and in the best interests of Gibraltar” throughout the process in order to secure the application to Gibraltar of the Withdrawal Agreement and its transitional provisions.
“It is not clear whether the Opposition would have done the same,” No.6 said in a statement.
“Indeed their suggestion that Gibraltar could have chosen not to apply the Withdrawal Agreement shows just how little they understand the issues and it betrays the magnitude of the dangers that Gibraltar would have faced had the GSD been in office at this challenging time.”
In the statement, No.6 countered many of the criticisms raise dby the GSD, including on the issue of citizens’ rights.
The GSD has accused the Gibraltar Government of giving away its “best bargaining chip” by agreeing to an MoU on citizens’ rights without demanding permanent gains in return, for example on frontier fluidity.
But the government said the GSD “does not seem to grasp” that the protections referred to on citizens’ rights stemmed from the overall Withdrawal Agreement, not the Gibraltar MoU, and applied to all UK and EU citizens wherever they were, not just frontier workers.
The government also underlined that the divorce deal was about the withdrawal from the EU, not the future relationship.
“Those discussions have not even started,” No.6 said.
“The United Kingdom itself does not know what the detail of the future will be. This is part of the controversy now raging at Westminster.”
“The suggestion that Gibraltar could have somehow gone further is absurd.”
“It is extremely dangerous to draw simplistic and superficial analogies between Gibraltar, Northern Ireland or indeed the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus. They are all are very different.”
The government said it “beggars belief” that the GSD had cited the Northern Ireland backstop as a model that should have been followed by Gibraltar, not least because of the political upheaval in Westminster centred mainly on this very issue.
The backstop, No.6 added, was there as a failsafe and neither the UK or the EU wanted to apply it into the future. There was nothing permanent about it.
Not only that, the future-facing arrangements for Northern Ireland stemmed from international agreements that already regulate its relationship with Ireland.
Addressing concerns raised by the GSD about the committee structure in the Gibraltar MoUs, the government repeated its position that there was no handover of control to Spain as the opposition asserts.
It said the entire Withdrawal Agreement – not just the Gibraltar protocol – had the same governing mechanism of UK-EU committees, adding that there was recourse to arbitration in the event of a disagreement.
“There is therefore no handing over of control to Spain in any way, but a continuing of EU jurisdiction for the limited period of application of the MoUs,” the government said.
“Indeed, by Mr Azopardi’s amateurish analysis, we have handed control to Spain already by relying on the Court of Justice of the EU to resolve disputes that might arise between Gibraltar and Spain in the context of remaining in the EU.”
“It is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone that Mr Azopardi feels it necessary to say something about Brexit. Sadly, he simply does not know what he is talking about.”
The government said Opposition members of the Brexit Select Committee had been briefed in confidence over 15 times “in great detail” as the negotiations progressed.
GSD MPs were given the opportunity to ask questions and to make suggestions at every briefing, No.6 Convent Place said.
“Some of them adopted a very positive approach because they understood the wider picture,” the statement said.
“Therefore the positon taken by Daniel Feetham, for example, who is on the Committee, and Roy Clinton, who is not, is remarkably at odds with the public statements made by the Leader of their own party.”
“Indeed, other senior members of the GSD Executive are on record as saying different things including that they are Brexiteers.”
“The GSD should therefore get their own house in order before pontificating to everyone else.”