No G.E. before Bexit – Picardo

Article credit: Brian Reyes, Gibraltar Chronicle.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has ruled out a general election before the Brexit deadline of March 29, insisting Gibraltar must instead focus on ensuring it is ready to leave the European Union. In a wide-ranging interview with the Chronicle, Mr Picardo expressed confidence that Gibraltar was ready for all eventualities including a hard Brexit. He said preparations were well under way to address any potential supply chain challenges that could arise from a no deal Brexit, adding that Gibraltar must also be ready to seize opportunities that could arise in such a scenario. But speaking after a Panorama poll predicted a comfortable electoral win for the GSLP/Liberals and a split vote on the Opposition bench, Mr Picardo said he would not go to the polls until after the UK and Gibraltar had left the EU.

“I think it would be irresponsible of us to hold an election despite the potential partisan advantage there might be in doing so early,” he said. “I think it would be irresponsible for us to take an election before the Brexit process has been seen through. As long as that is not extended after March, I can rule out the possibility of an election before the 29th of March this year. It would be irresponsible to do that even if it were advantageous in a partisan sense. There is a lot to be done in the management of the process of leaving the European Union and in particular in the opportunities that might arise in the context of a hard Brexit. We have to be ready to take those for the benefit of the whole community and not simply take a route that might be the most politically advantageous for the government that I lead in coalition with the Liberal Party.”

The Chief Minister’s comments come as the UK and the EU step up preparations for a no deal Brexit ahead of a crucial debate in the House of Commons next week, at the end of which MPs will vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial divorce deal. Mr Picardo said the Gibraltar Government’s baseline position was that the best thing for Gibraltar was to remain within the EU. But he said this was not an option available at the moment and that, in Gibraltar’s inter-governmental relationship with the UK, the only thing on the table was Mrs May’s deal. The Gibraltar Government had negotiated protections for Gibraltar within that deal, he said, adding that it was a better outcome for the Rock than a hard Brexit. Mr Picardo, who has been criticised by the GSD for championing Mrs May’s deal, said he would personally welcome a second referendum – “even though it is another roll of the dice” – but that as a government, his administration’s only option had been to engage with the UK Government on the divorce agreement.

“In the context of leaving, with remaining not being an option and with Leave fast coming up towards us, the question is ‘what is safest for Gibraltar?’,” he said. “And I have to tell you, the safest thing for Gibraltar in a Leave scenario is the Withdrawal Agreement. What can we do to stop the UK leaving the EU? Join a political campaign in the UK? We may have the luxury of doing that as individuals, but as a government, we do not have the luxury of joining a political campaign in the UK against the UK Government. It is safer for Gibraltar to remain [in the EU], but if the UK is fixed on leaving, our role must be to ensure the protection for Gibraltar in the context of that leaving.”