The best Brexit outcome for Gibraltar would be for the UK to revoke Article 50 and remain in the European Union, the Gibraltar Government said on Tuesday.
No.6 Convent Place was reacting after Prime Minister Theresa May accepted for the first time that the UK may not leave the European Union on March 29, offering MPs a chance to vote to delay Brexit if her deal is rejected again next month.
It also comes after the Labour Party said it would support a fresh referendum where the choice would be between remaining and a withdrawal agreement.
In a move which pushes back the Brexit cliff edge by three months to the end of June, Mrs May announced she was to give MPs two votes on March 13-14 if she failed to get a deal approved by March 12.
The UK Government would allow a vote on March 13 at the latest asking whether MPs supported leaving without a deal. If they rejected such an option, on March 14 they would vote on a “short, limited extension” Brexit delay.
“The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on March 29 if there is explicit consent in the House for that outcome,” Mrs May said, though she was clear that the UK Government was not removing the ultimate threat of a no-deal Brexit.
“An extension cannot take no deal off the table,” Mrs May said. “The only way to do that is to revoke Article 50, which I shall not do, or agree a deal.”
The developments were being closely followed in Gibraltar, where No.6 Convent Place said it was concerned by the prospect of any extension to the Brexit deadline “for obvious reasons”, a veiled reference to fears that Spain may seek to exploit such a scenario.
No.6 said that the outcome of any vote on extending Article 50 could not be predicted, meaning that it would continue to prepare for all eventualities for Gibraltar’s departure from the EU.
The “detailed and serious” planning for a no deal Brexit would continue, it said.
“The final potential outcomes of this process remain unclear,” Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.
“We have therefore been working hard on all reasonably predictable outcomes to deliver the results we need – certainty for all citizens and businesses alike.”
“We will continue to do so and to engage with the UK, the EU institutions and Member States, including Spain, to ensure all our citizens are equally and reciprocally protected in all eventualities.”
The Gibraltar Government said too that Gibraltar would expect to form part of any new referendum as it did the first time round, but added that a different outcome was not guaranteed and that the UK would remain divided and uncertainty would continue irrespective of the result.
The Gibraltar Government would back a ‘remain’ option in a new referendum, despite its concerns about the way the EU has handled many aspects of the Brexit process as it relates to Gibraltar.
The GSD welcomed the “significant” decision by the Labour Party in the UK to back a policy of a second vote between a “credible” withdrawal agreement to leave the EU and remaining.
The GSD has supported the idea of a second vote from very early on.
“Clearly Gibraltar must continue to plan for all scenarios and that must include having robust contingency plans for a hard Brexit but this news from Labour should be supported as it provides Gibraltar with the best hope for continued stability and prosperity in the future,” GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said.
“As is well-known the GSD has supported a second vote or so-called People’s Vote for some months.”
“In announcing the policy Labour has stressed that the choice at a second vote – if it materialises – must be between a ‘credible’ withdrawal agreement and remain because the Labour Party does not consider the current withdrawal agreement as good for the UK.”
“The GSD agrees that the current withdrawal agreement is not good for Gibraltar and certainly not better than remaining in the EU.”
“This is a rapidly changing panorama and much will happen from now till the end of March.”
“Gibraltar must be ready for everything because there is no obvious outcome to all of this.”
The party also acknowledged the developments in the House of Commons.
“The unconditional extension of the Article 50 period to allow a measured process should also be on the table and to that extent we also welcome this afternoon’s announcement by the UK Prime Minister that she will ask the UK Parliament to vote on whether to extend the Article 50 period in the event that her Withdrawal Agreement and a no deal Brexit are not supported,” Mr Azopardi said.
NEW CLIFF EDGE?
Mrs May said any extension would not go beyond the end of June and would almost certainly have to be a one off, adding that her government must honour the decision to leave the EU because the credibility of British democracy was at stake.
“She seems to be giving us a date for a new cliff edge – the end of June,” veteran pro-EU Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke said of Mrs May’s statement.
The EU would be ready to approve a short Brexit delay if Britain needs more time to ensure parliamentary ratification of their divorce agreement, three EU officials told Reuters.
After parliament voted 432-202 against her divorce deal in January, Mrs May is trying to negotiate changes to the exit deal she agreed with the EU last year and had promised to bring it back for approval in parliament by March 12 at the latest.
The ultimate outcome remains unclear, with scenarios ranging from a last-minute deal to another referendum that Mrs May has warned would reopen the divisions of the 2016 referendum campaign or even scupper Brexit.
Mrs May’s decision to give lawmakers more say over the outcome was an attempt to see off a rebellion by MPs and ministers in her own party who had warned they could vote on Wednesday with opposition parties to grab control of Brexit.
After Mrs May’s statement, MPs said there would not now be a vote on Wednesday on the plan for parliament to take control if ministers confirmed Mrs May’s pledges.
A delay would increase the chances of a reversal of Brexit, especially as the opposition Labour Party is tilting towards supporting another referendum.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexit-supporting lawmaker in Mrs May’s Conservative Party, expressed concern: “If it’s being delayed… as a plot to stop Brexit altogether, then I think that would be the most grievous error that politicians could commit.”
Both of Britain’s main parties are under intense pressure to change course on Brexit: both are deeply divided though both are officially committed to implementing Brexit.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Tuesday that even if Mrs May got her Brexit deal approved by parliament then it should be put to a “confirmatory” public vote.
“The prime minister’s botched deal provides no certainty or guarantees for the future,” he said, accusing Mrs May of running down the clock in a “grotesquely reckless” way.
But the tilt towards another referendum raises problems for Labour, many of whose traditional voters backed Brexit.
The 2016 referendum, in which 17.4 million voters backed leaving and 16.1 million backed staying, showed a country divided about much more than the EU, and has fuelled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism and modern British identity.
The crisis has left allies and investors puzzled by a country that was for decades touted as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability.