Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday called on Opposition MPs to rally behind the government as it continues to prepare for the UK and Gibraltar’s departure from the European Union.
Against the backdrop of a forthcoming general election, and with less than 40 days to the Brexit deadline, Mr Picardo reflected on the political upheaval facing the UK and Gibraltar and said it was vital to focus on securing Gibraltar’s future outside the EU.
As he adjourned Parliament until March 14, Mr Picardo told MPs: “That date will be 15 days before the United Kingdom and with it Gibraltar are due to leave the European Union.”
“I say due to leave the European Union because these are times of flux of the sort that I don’t think we have ever lived in politics before since probably 1939, and I say that advisedly.”
And he added: “I want to emphasise that there will not be a general election between now and then.”
“I would call on all members of this House to keep in mind what our destination is on the 29th of March, involuntary as it is, and although politics must continue as usual, it is fundamentally important, in the interests of this community, in the interests of all of us, in the interests of all of us in this House, in the interests of all our descendants, that we get this right, and that for the next 30-odd days, we concentrate on reaching that destination in a way that secures Gibraltar’s future.”
He was speaking at the end of a session of Parliament during which the government faced a battery of questions tabled by the GSD and independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon on contingency plans ahead of Brexit.
The questions focused on everything from the cost of contingency planning, to arrangements to guarantee border fluidity for people and goods, to what will happen to Gibraltar’s waste in the event of a hard Brexit.
GSD MP Elliot Phillips, the Leader of the Opposition, said the UK Government had issued over 100 pages of technical guidance to businesses on how to prepare for Brexit.
He said that while the Gibraltar Government had issued some guidance in the form of press releases, local businesses and the community as a whole was in need of additional information in order to understand what to expect and prepare accordingly.
Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia told the House that the government was reluctant to speak openly about the details of its contingency planning but had briefed the Brexit select committee privately.
That briefing took place yesterday morning ahead of the meeting of the House.
The government had also briefed labour representatives and the business community, he said, adding that it had held 45 meetings with private commercial entities since the 2016 referendum in order to assess the impact of Brexit and plan for different eventualities.
Dr Garcia also said that further guidance notes would be issued “as and when appropriate”.
Ahead of the session of Parliament, the government issued a statement setting out the meetings it had held in recent days as part of the planning for Brexit, although offering no details of the substance of those discussions.
Opposition Members of the Brexit Select Committee were briefed ‘in detail’ by the Gibraltar Government yesterday morning on the plans for a no-deal Brexit. The briefing lasted for nearly two hours, the government said.
The meeting was chaired by the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, and included the members of the Brexit Strategic Group, who are the Chief Secretary Darren Grech, the Civil Contingencies Coordinator Ivor Lopez and Principal Secretary to the Deputy Chief Minister Caine Sanchez.
The Opposition Members at the meeting included GSD MPs Daniel Feetham and Trevor Hammond and Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon.
A detailed presentation was given to those present with the opportunity to ask questions and to comment, the government said.
Additionally, the Chief Secretary chaired a meeting of the Brexit Executive Committee which regularly engages with the heads of major government departments to coordinate their own contingency plans and to consider their possible actions in the event of various Brexit scenarios.
The Chief Secretary also briefed senior union officials.
Chief Secretary, Darren Grech said: “We feel that, as important stakeholders, it is imperative that unions are fully briefed on the Government’s contingency plans in order that they can keep their members in the picture.”
“Meanwhile, in the Executive Group, we consider several different Brexit scenarios in order to be well prepared for everything – from the best-case right through to the worst-case.”
Dr Garcia said: “The Government continues to plan for the eventuality of a no deal Brexit.”
“We have moved from a hypothetical situation to a potential reality. Departments are now coming through with funding and resourcing requests in order to implement the policy decisions that have been taken.”
“It is important to bear in mind that just because we are preparing for a no deal Brexit, it does not mean that this is going to happen.”
“The United Kingdom and the European Union are both working towards the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement that was concluded in November and which provides for the UK and Gibraltar’s orderly exit from the European Union.”