Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has said that the only way for the United Kingdom to take back control of the Brexit process is to revoke the Article 50 notification.
In doing so he flagged the reaction of EU leaders to Prime Minister Theresa May’s appeal for a delay to Brexit.
He added that should MPs in the House of Commons not back the withdrawal agreement next week, revocation of Article 50 would be the only way to take back control of the process even if the UK Parliament sought to continue the process thereafter.
Speaking to Sky News he said: “Let’s revoke and let’s slowly determine for ourselves as a nation together what we want to do in the future.”
This comes as a petition calling for the UK Government to revoke Article 50 crashed the official petitions website.
More than 3m people have now signed the petition, which calls for support to remain in the EU, surpassing the 100,000-signature threshold needed for it to be debated in Parliament.
There was increased activity in signatures following the Prime Minister’s speech on Wednesday night.
Asked if revocation was a realistic hope, Mr Picardo said: “Gibraltar is safer in the European Union, I think the best deal for the United Kingdom is to stay in the European Union and I think the referendum was brought as a result of people being sold on a false prospectus.”
“But having said that Gibraltar has accepted the result of the referendum and we have negotiated with Mrs May’s team, Mrs May’s much maligned team of officials, who have done an excellent job as history will show to produce a withdrawal agreement that at least protects us through the transitional period.”
“If MPs support the withdrawal agreement we can leave without having to have a catastrophic bump on the road for the UK.”
“If MPs do not support the withdrawal agreement then Parliament has already said that there should be a no-deal taken off the table.”
But, he said, the Europeans are also a part of the negotiation of how no-deal is taken off the table.
“We’ve seen the reaction of the President of the European Council yesterday, we can anticipate what the reaction of the rest of the European leaders will be today and therefore if on Tuesday MPs do not back the withdrawal agreement the only way for the UK to take back control of the Brexit process is to revoke the Article 50 notification even if you then seek to continue the process of Brexit.”
“Let’s revoke and let’s slowly determine for ourselves as a nation together what we want to do in the future.”
He added: “I would still advocate remaining, even if you advocate leaving this may be the best way to engineer how the UK leaves in the future.”
Asked what the impact of leaving the EU on March 29 without a deal would be on Gibraltar, Mr Picardo said the Rock had done the work that it needed to do to prepare for such a scenario.
“My role has been to ensure with the team that I assembled for this purpose – officials and politicians – that Gibraltar is ready in every eventuality.
“So if there is a no deal Brexit at the end of next week, which I think would be worse for the UK than it would be for the rest of the EU or indeed for Gibraltar, Gibraltar is ready to deal with that eventuality.”
Pressed as to the practical consequences on the Rock and its economy of a no-deal Brexit, the Chief Minister said Gibraltar and Spain had negotiated directly and worked to ensure that the process does not affect the many Spanish and other European citizens who cross the border everyday to work here.
“I think we will see Gibraltar be able to continue operating economically, our frontier continue to operate in a way that is manageable although it may, not necessarily because of Spain but because of the way that the Europeans may decide that they have to take a less positive attitude to British citizens coming into the schengen area and that may manifest itself in some additional controls but in a manageable way.”
He added: “It’s in the interests of both Spain and Gibraltar that that should be the case.”
Asked about Spain renewing its claim to Gibraltar with EU backing Mr Picardo was robust.
“Anything that the EU and Spain do or say about Gibraltar is without consequence in respect of our status.”
“Our status is a matter agreed between us and the United Kingdom and they can throw sticks and stones and they can say whatever they like about our status, it doesn’t change the reality of our status and our relationship and that’s based on Gibraltar’s choice and the choice of the people of Gibraltar to freely determine what our relationship is with the UK.”
“Our status is not going to change however it may be misdescribed by Spain with or without the backing of the European Union.”
Meanwhile during yesterday afternoon’s meeting of the Gibraltar Parliament the Leader of the Opposition Elliott Phillips accused Mr Picardo of “shifting” his position on the withdrawal agreement, prompting a clash between the two.
In doing so Mr Phillips flagged how the Chief Minister had previously described Mrs May’s deal as “good for the UK and therefore good for Gibraltar.”
But, he said: “Now the Chief Minister is saying it’s the wrong deal for the UK and not the best deal for Gibraltar, which is it?”
Hitting back, Mr Picardo insisted that he had not changed his position on the withdrawal agreement.
“My position on the withdrawal agreement is very simple: it is the agreement by which the government of the United Kingdom is attempting to deliver leaving the European Union.”
“An objective that all of us agree is not as good as staying in the European Union which is what we all prefer,” he told MPs.
“But it is a good agreement for the United Kingdom and for Gibraltar given the very bad outcome that leaving the European Union is,” Mr Picardo said as he reiterated that he had not changed his on the withdrawal agreement.
“With eight days to go it’s either the withdrawal agreement or revoke because the alternative is no deal.”