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Amid Brexit chaos in London, CM says Gibraltar is ready whatever happens

Amid Brexit chaos in London, CM says Gibraltar is ready whatever happens

Gibraltar is ready for any of the Brexit scenarios that could open up in the coming days, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said last night following a day of chaotic scenes in the House of Commons.

The Chief Minister was speaking after the European Union said it could grant Britain’s request for a short Brexit delay if the Commons votes next week in favour of Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial Withdrawal Agreement, European Council President Donald Tusk said.

Earlier in the day, Mrs May asked the European Union to allow Britain to delay its departure date by three months to June 30, and EU leaders are expected to discuss the matter at a summit today.

Mr Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, told a press conference in Brussels: “In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days, I believe that a short extension would be possible.”

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“But it would be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.”

“The question remains open as to the duration of such an extension.”

The PM made the request in a letter to Mr Tusk exactly 1,000 days after the 2016 referendum which delivered a 52%-48% majority to quit the EU.

During a stormy session of Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May sparked speculation that she may step down if either MPs or Europe demand a longer extension to the Article 50 negotiation process.

“As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30,” she said.

Mrs May repeated the message in a statement to the nation from Downing Street last night.

“This delay is a matter of great personal regret for me,” Mrs May said.

“I passionately hope that MPs will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU, a deal that delivers on the referendum and is the very best deal negotiable, and I will continue to work night and day to secure the support” for the deal.

“But I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June,” she added.

Directing her message to voters and blaming MPs for the delays, she added: “Of this, I am absolutely sure: You the public have had enough.”

“You are tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime.”

“You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide.”

MPs are now faced with the prospect of backing her deal, which they have already rejected on two separate occasions, or risking a ‘no deal’ Brexit on March 29, an option which the majority of the Commons rejected last week but which remains the default in UK law.

The developments in Westminster were being closely followed by politicians in Gibraltar.

“The unprecedented events that are engulfing the United Kingdom are politically painful to watch,” Mr Picardo told the Chronicle.

“In Gibraltar, the Government has done its job.”

“We are ready to leave with or without the Withdrawal Agreement, for an extension, for a revocation or for a new referendum.”

“In every one of those scenarios, we have protected Gibraltar’s position or planned how we will react in the best interests of Gibraltar and its people.”

“The unrelenting hard work we have done in the past three years is paying off now as Gibraltar can see we have covered all bases going forward.”

“Whichever way the UK Parliament and the Prime Minister now finally decide to go, whatever extension the EU may or may not agree, we have a route map forward for Gibraltar.”

“That was our key job. It’s what we have successfully done.”

OPPOSITION REACTION

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD, said the party welcomed the request for an extension to the Brexit deadline to June 30.

He said this would avoid the prospect of a hard Brexit next week, adding that the GSD hoped the EU would grant an unconditional extension.

“Mrs May’s statement tonight though expresses scant flexibility,” he added.

“Her determination to pursue a single track option of cajoling Parliament time and again to back her bad deal is not in the interests of Gibraltar.”

“Her ruling out of a second referendum is equally regrettable.”

“At this stage we must continue to prepare and hope that the political panorama in the UK delivers better options for Gibraltar.”

Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, who leads the Together Gibraltar party, said the UK and Gibraltar had waited “with baited breath” for a clear sign of direction from Mrs May, but that this was still lacking.

“While many will identify with the frustration and emotion she has unfurled, there is still no sign of the direction we’re all desperate for,” she said.

“Her unveiled attack on MPs has only served to alienate her further from the very people she needs onside to deliver the Brexit deal the people of the UK voted for, with the clear caveat that the people of Gibraltar wanted to remain.”

“The uncertainty for Gibraltar continues.”

“As a politician and a democrat I can only continue to dig deep and have faith that democracy will prevail and show us it is, in the words of Richard Langworth, the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

FATIGUE

Earlier yesterday, Mr Tusk said he believed a short delay “would be possible” after he spoke to the Prime Minister following her formal request for an extension of the Article 50 withdrawal process to the end of June.

Mr Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, told a press conference in Brussels: “In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days, I believe that a short extension would be possible.”

“But it would be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.”

“The question remains open as to the duration of such an extension.”

Mr Tusk indicated that it should be possible for leaders of the remaining EU 27 to approve his plan at a summit in the Belgian capital starting today.

He said that while he did not foresee the need for another “extraordinary” summit next week, he would not hesitate to call one if necessary.

“If the leaders approve my recommendations and there is a positive vote in the House of Commons next week, we can finalise and formalise the decision on extension in the written procedure,” he said.

“However, if there is such a need, I will not hesitate to invite the members of the European Council for a meeting to Brussels next week.”

Mr Tusk added: “Even if the hope for final success may seem frail, even illusory, and although Brexit fatigue is increasingly visible and justified, we cannot give up seeking until the very last moment a positive solution – of course without opening up the Withdrawal Agreement.”

“We have reacted with patience and goodwill to numerous turns of events and I am confident that also now we will not lack the same patience and goodwill at this most critical point in this process.”

ELECTIONS

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned the PM that Brexit would have to be complete before May 23 or the UK would have to take part in elections to the European Parliament beginning that day.

Mrs May said involvement in the elections would be “unacceptable”, but appears to regard the July 1 date when new MEPs will take their seats as the effective deadline.

Aides said Mrs May will “passionately” make her case for a three-month delay on Thursday to the leaders of the remaining 27 EU states, whose unanimous approval is required for any extension.
But an unconfirmed report in French news magazine Le Point suggested that President Emmanuel Macron will argue against any postponement beyond March 29.

Only six days ago, Mrs May’s effective deputy David Lidington warned that a short delay would be “downright reckless”. And a motion tabled by the Government last week appeared to keep a longer extension of nine months to a year on the table.

But Leave-backing ministers are understood to have piled on pressure at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting to keep any delay short.

Downing Street aides said the final form of Mrs May’s letter to Mr Tusk was not decided until Wednesday morning.

LETTER

In her letter to Mr Tusk, Mrs May said it remains the UK Government’s policy to take the UK out of the EU “in an orderly manner” on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration agreed in November and supplemented by documents agreed with Mr Juncker last week.

The agreement was rejected by 230 votes in January and 149 votes earlier this month.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said on Monday he would not allow the same motion to be brought again during this session of Parliament, unless it was substantially changed.

But Mrs May told the Commons: “The Government intends to bring forward proposals for a third meaningful vote.”

“If that vote is passed, the extension will give the House time to consider the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. If not, the House will have to decide how to proceed.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Mrs May of “running down the clock” on Brexit in.

He told the Commons: “This Government has led the country and themselves into crisis, chaos and division.”

MAIN PHOTO: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

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