Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday championed Theresa May’s Brexit deal in an opinion piece for The Times and briefings with MPs in the House of Commons, even as the Prime Minister faced another day of parliamentary scrutiny over the controversial agreement.
Mrs May’s government looks unlikely to win parliament’s backing for the plan she has agreed with the European Union to leave on March 29, which will preserve some trade advantages but leave Britain subject to EU rules.
If she loses the December 11 parliamentary vote on her deal it would open up possibilities that include a limited renegotiation, Britain leaving with no transition deal, a new election or even a second Brexit referendum, although the last is something May has ruled out.
Chancellor Philip Hammond told the Commons that a Brexit outcome that left a large segment of the British people feeling betrayed would damage the country more than the small economic cost of Mrs May’s preferred Brexit plan.
“Any solution which left the country divided, left a large segment of the population feeling betrayed, in my view, would have a negative political impact and societal impact that would far outweigh the very small economic impact that the White Paper scenario is showing here,” he said.
Mr Hammond said it would be “catastrophic” for Britain if it remained mired in the Brexit debate for years to come.
“We have to resolve this,” he said.
Yesterday Mrs May and her team found vocal support in the Chief Minister, who said that while the deal was imperfect, it was better both for Gibraltar and the UK than a no-deal Brexit without a transition period to cushion the blow.
Mr Picardo called on MPs “who are friends of Gibraltar” to vote in favour of the Brexit deal, adding that those voting against the deal in hope of a hard Brexit “are not helping Gibraltar.”
“The deal on the table, imperfect though it is, remains the best for us all,” he wrote in the Times.
“Of course, no deal would still be better than a bad deal that did not protect Gibraltar’s sovereignty or our economic interests.”
“But this deal does protect Gibraltar’s British sovereignty, and our current and future economic interests. So this deal is far, far better for Gibraltar than no deal.”
“For all these reasons, as far as Gibraltar is concerned, the deal proposed by Mrs May works because it protects our interests in the process of withdrawal and it protects our interests for the future negotiations.”
The Chief Minister is set to return to the Rock this afternoon following a series of whistle-stop meetings in London where he also briefed the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar and Tory MPs and urged them to back the Mrs May’s Brexit deal.
But Mr Picardo’s backing of the deal drew flak in Gibraltar from the GSD.
Party leader Keith Azopardi has previously been critical of the Gibraltar Government’s “euphoric” attitude towards the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, insisting that presenting the deal as ‘great for Gibraltar’ was a “massive stretch of the imagination”.
And yesterday, GSD MP Roy Clinton rebuked Mr Picardo for having written the opinion piece in The Times in such terms.
Taking to social media Mr Clinton said: “Fabian Picardo has no mandate from our Parliament nor indeed the people of Gibraltar to write such a letter to The Times.”
“He speaks for himself and the Prime Minister.”
“Our best option is a People’s Vote and to remain in Europe. The economic and social costs of leaving Europe are too high to bear for the UK and its overseas territories.”
“This ill conceived idea of ‘taking back control’ is doing precisely the opposite,” Mr Clinton added.
Despite its support for the Brexit deal, the Gibraltar Government has also stated throughout the Brexit negotiations that Gibraltar would be better off within the EU.
Yesterday, it welcomed the news earlier this week that an Advocate General to the European Court of Justice had advised that the UK was able to unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 notification and, in effect, stop the Brexit process.
While the court has yet to issue a judgement and could disagree with the advice, the Gibraltar Government said it could represent an opportunity to for the UK to “stop the clock on a potential cliff edge or no deal Brexit in the event of there being no majority in the House of Commons for the options available on withdrawal.
“The Gibraltar aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement are an important safety net for Gibraltar if Brexit happens on the basis of this agreement,” Mr Picardo said.
“And this agreement is better for Gibraltar than a Brexit that happens without an agreement in March 2019.”
“But throughout this process Gibraltar’s position has been clear and unequivocal: the best option for us is for the UK to remain in the EU.”
“If the UK is going to leave with a deal, the Prime Minister’s deal works for Gibraltar.”
“Now that the possibility may be there for a unilateral withdrawal of the Article 50 notification, subject to the final ruling of the Court, there are other options which the Prime Minister can pursue if her deal is repeatedly rejected by Parliament and which do not amount to a cliff-edge/no deal Brexit.”
“That can include – as I first said in July 2016 – the option of calling a new referendum on the real options facing the British people upon Brexit, and not the false prospectus on which the vote was originally held in June 2016.”
“Alternatively, it can mean simply not pursuing Brexit at all upon the unilateral withdrawal of Article 50 notification.”
“That would likely be the preferred option of most Gibraltarians.”
“We must wait to see the outcome of the votes in the House of Commons before being able to determine which of the alternative options to throw our collective weight behind.”
MAIN PHOTO: Anti-Brexit demonstrators protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo