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How Brexit changed the Chief Minister’s New Year message as election looms

For a New Year message on the eve of an ever more likely Brexit, there was precious little from Gibraltar’s Chief Minister on the topic.

What Fabian Picardo did was to show off a number of creditable socialist projects, with a strong affirmation that there would be no negotiation on sovereignty going forward.

“No one should interpret our massive vote in favour of remaining in the EU as suggesting that we will be prepared to compromise on sovereignty,” said the Chief Minister. “If anyone in Spain, in any part of the political spectrum, believes that we will ever compromise on our sovereignty they are wrong.

“If anyone seriously thinks they can advance the concept of Joint Sovereignty, they are flogging a dead horse. They should not waste breath talking such nonsense. Neither through threats nor inducements will we ever waiver.”

This is the sort of defiant verbal assault that we have come to know from Picardo over the years, but despite the populism he does not seem to know any more about Brexit than rest of us despite so much time in London.

Scepticism

More meetings but there seems no clear end in sight

“Now we must also ramp up the implementation of preparations for a departure from the EU without a deal,” he said. “Because, although many of us might wish that Brexit is somehow stopped by a second referendum or an outright rescission of the Article 50 notification, we must now be ready for any eventuality.

“But, at the same time, we must also start negotiations, as part of the UK family, for our future relationship with the EU. The political and geographic reality is that this will in effect recast our relationship with Spain, our immediate EU neighbour. As usual, we will approach such negotiations in good faith but with a healthy dose of scepticism.”

If no news was good news, the Brexit uncertainty could finally be put to bed. But even though most Gibraltarians choose to keep their heads firmly in the sand as the world waits on what appears to be a doomed Brexit vote, the uncertainty is palpable.

Apart from the review of another successful term, which will come to an end sometime after March 29 this year, he did not inform the public of “the opportunities that Brexit can bring”, like the leader of the Liberal party had last week. Even though Picardo said preparing for these realities was “the responsible thing to do” he could not expand on the DCM’s plans other than saying “they are opportunities we are duty bound to pursue”.

Listening

It did take Unite some time to get round to it but Gibraltar’s only union finally got going its campaign against agency workers in government positions. While this is a very liberal economic measure which was the brainchild of Neil Costa it has not gone down very well, with enough noise being made for the CM saying it will end.

While many in Gibraltar might see the ideal marriage of Socialists and Liberals in government as a good balance, the agency workers policy showed the stark difference between socialism and liberalism when it comes to employment at least.

I do not believe in austerity, which in my view hurts working people more than any others,” said Picardo in a very socialist way, only waiting a second before representing a liberal view. “But I do believe in efficiency.

“Additionally, and as I committed to do in May of last year, we will be ending the use of agency workers in the Civil Service and reviewing the rules governing such contracts.”

The rest of the message proved to be a confirmation of all the hard work done throughout the year on the schools, including announcing a new St Mary’s school. The CM piled praise on the work of the coalition, with the new housing project, primary care centre and LNG power station all scheduled to come closer to completion this year.

As they sped off to the UK for meetings in London over the possibility of no deal Brexit just as Theresa May lost another vote in the House of Commons on Monday night, it was becoming clear that three painful months of uncertainty lay ahead.


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