Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday defended his government’s handling of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations, dismissing Keith Azopardi’s “vicious, vacuous and empty” accusations.
He was reacting after the GSD Leader said Mr Picardo had “dug a hole for himself” by backing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which was roundly rejected by a majority of MP’s in the House of Commons this week.
Mr Azopardi said the Chief Minister had negotiated “a bad Brexit deal” for Gibraltar that failed to secure any enduring benefits for this community and handed Spain a say in Gibraltar’s affairs.
But Mr Picardo said Mr Azopardi was demonstrating “a deep misunderstanding” of the Brexit process and adopting a position that even the GSD’s MPs did not support.
In doing so, the Chief Minister highlighted repeatedly the fact that Mr Azopardi is not an elected member of the Gibraltar Parliament.
“It is disconcerting to see how little he understands about the negotiations, how little he understands what has been achieved, how little analytical skill he possesses,” Mr Picardo said.
“This is politics at its cheapest level.”
“I have said that we have left no stone unturned [and] elected members of the GSD have recognised this, but not him.”
“Perhaps he has entered the political fray too late and is still in catch up mode, but it is time he did his homework once and for all. Gibraltar deserves better.”
“Gibraltar deserves more responsible opposition.”
The Chief Minister said there was nothing enduring to be achieved in the Withdrawal Agreement, which was only concerned with the divorce between the EU and the UK and not an enduring future between them.
He said it would have been catastrophic for Gibraltar to have been left out of any withdrawal agreement and transitional period, which was the starting position that Gibraltar faced because of Clause 24.
The Gibraltar Government had negotiated long and hard on the only thing that had been on the negotiating table for the last two and half years, the Withdrawal Agreement, and it had obtained “a vital success for Gibraltar” by being included in that agreement.
“To have achieved enduring rights, as the unelected Mr Azopardi suggests, is a fantasy of his distorted and confused mind,” Mr Picardo said.
The Chief Minister dismissed too the suggestion that the Gibraltar Government should have backed Remain or a second referendum during those negotiations. To have done so would have risked alienating the UK Government to Gibraltar’s detriment.
And he rebuffed claims that his support for Mrs May’s deal would put him at odds with MPs in other parties who may have a role in issues facing Gibraltar in the future.
In a statement, the government listed dozens of MPs across all parties in the UK and at all levels of seniority who the Gibraltar Government had lobbied directly in recent weeks and months.
“All of them voted against the Prime Minister’s deal in the Commons last Tuesday,” Mr Picardo said.
“All of them have understood the Chief Minister’s strategy. None of them have been alienated.”
“What does the unelected Mr Azopardi think? That this is a playground game?”
The government said Mrs May’s deal had failed for reasons that were relevant only to the UK and centred largely on the Norther Ireland backstop, adding that this had nothing to do with Gibraltar.
It said too that Mr Azopardi, despite not being an elected member of parliament, had been given sight of the Gibraltar Brexit documents before they were made public.
According to the government, Mr Azopardi took issue with none of the text and “wanted to change only three words”.
Last night, the Chief Minister said he and his team would continue with the Brexit work they had embarked on over two years ago.
“I remain engaged and committed to take Gibraltar to the next phase of the Brexit negotiations, with the benefit of the experience of having led Gibraltar through the first phase,” he said.
“I have achieved what was achievable at this stage of the negotiations and, in doing so, I have alienated nobody.”
“My Government have lobbied incessantly the entire Brexit spectrum in the last two years including many of those who voted against the Prime Minister’s deal last Tuesday.”
“The unelected Mr Azopardi’s position, however, would have alienated him and Gibraltar from many members of the UK parliament, in all political parties and on all sides of the House. That is the reality.”
“Both I and my Government are ready to embrace the next phases of this complex constitutional crisis in the UK.”
“Needless to say, it is not the unelected Mr Azopardi’s fatuous comments that will deter me.”