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Azopardi says ‘political and financial crisis’ worsened by years of ‘reckless’ spending

GSD Leader Keith Azopardi. Photos John Bugeja

The “financial and political crisis” facing Gibraltar has been worsened by years of “reckless” government spending, GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said on Monday, repeating earlier criticism too of “lost opportunities” to secure the Rock’s post-Brexit future.

In a New Year message on GBC, the Leader of the Opposition said the GSD would not give Chief Minister Fabian Picardo “a blank cheque” following his call last week for unity in the face of multiple challenges facing this community.

“This was a request for economic solidarity from someone who over the last decade has presided over the most reckless ratcheting up of public debt ever seen in Gibraltar’s history,” Mr Azopardi said.

Mr Azopardi noted that Gibraltar was now running a deficit of £1m a week, adding this was “like you having to borrow money every month just to pay the food bills”.

“When Mr Picardo calls for unity around this new so-called culture of responsibility, we view this with deep scepticism because it is his Government that had created a culture of entitlement and burnt the people’s monies as if there was no tomorrow,” he said.

“Sooner or later that is unsustainable because money borrowed has to be paid back and all Mr Picardo is leaving successive generations is a legacy of debt, debt, debt.”

Mr Azopardi said the government’s spending prior to Covid-19 had left Gibraltar in a precarious position in the event of “a really rainy day”.

“It is now raining hailstones and there is no cash left because Mr Picardo has spent it,” he said.

Mr Azopardi acknowledged that Covid-19 had “of course” been a strain on the public purse.

But he insisted repeatedly that Gibraltar should have been better placed to “weather the storm”.

“We aren’t afraid to tighten our collective belts but if there is a need to do so it has been worsened because of Mr Picardo’s policies for a decade,” the GSD Leader said.

“If there is a need to fasten our seat belts because we are still in political uncertainty it is because Mr Picardo’s Government has so far failed where the British Government has succeeded only for itself.”

As he has done previously, Mr Azopardi said Gibraltar continued to face Brexit uncertainty even though the UK had secured a treaty for itself over a year ago.

He said the Opposition had for some time warned of “lost opportunities” following the Brexit referendum, expressing criticism of the MoUs and the Tax Treaty negotiated as part of the withdrawal process.

He described the New Year’s Eve political framework agreement as “skimpy” and said the government must publish and debate any treaty agreement with the EU before signing up to it.

“There are plenty of potential economic and political trojan horses in the margins and details of the agreement contemplated by Mr Picardo that could conceivably affect our sovereignty, jurisdiction and control,” he said.

“We will all need to judge any deal which is finally put on the table. It would need to be safe and beneficial. We hope there will be one.”

“But no deal should be entered into before it is published in draft so there can be full public scrutiny and debate in Parliament of the proposed deal before it is signed.”

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