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Brexit ‘still has to be dealt with’, Picardo says

Photo by Jon Nazca/REUTERS

Covid-19 has made Brexit feel like “a dress rehearsal”, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said on Tuesday, even while stressing that the UK and Gibraltar’s departure from the EU raised fundamental challenges that “have to be dealt with”.

Mr Picardo, standing next to Opposition Leader Keith Azopardi during a press conference in No.6 Convent Place, was reflecting on the difficulties faced by a small administration dealing with the strain of responding to a “life or death” public health pandemic, while protecting Gibraltar during the seismic shift that Brexit represents.

He was responding to questions after Spanish officials were quoted at the weekend saying they hoped to resume Brexit discussions relating to Gibraltar in the first half of May.

Mr Picardo said the unattributed comments likely referred to the work of the joint committees set up under the Withdrawal Agreement, and this "could possibly go ahead" if Gibraltar, the UK and Spain were able to agree a mechanism of working remotely.

"But everything at the moment is subject to how the Covid crisis develops within the United Kingdom, Spain, Brussels and Gibraltar," he added.

"What might appear possible today may not be possible, even technically, in two weeks time."

Mr Picardo made clear too that even though Brexit had faded into the background in the light of the Covid-19 crisis, it was still a live issue that could not be ignored.

The main pressure arises from the fact that the UK Government remains adamant that there will be no change to the deadline for the end of the transition period in December this year, even though it is still some way from agreeing a new permanent relationship with the EU.

If an extension is ultimately sought, it must be agreed by early June under EU law, meaning time is of the essence.

Mr Picardo, an ardent Remainer, said last week that he had made his views clear to the UK Government, although he would not be drawn on them other than to say “it would not take a magician” to know what they are.

"Covid has made Brexit feel almost like a dress rehearsal, but Brexit is still there," Mr Picardo said on Tuesday.

"And it has to be dealt with."

"It goes to core aspects of the future prosperity of our community, and it has to be dealt with."

Mr Picardo said the Gibraltar Government had ensured that in parallel to its Covid-19 response, officials who had been engaged in Brexit-related work continued with that task.

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, said an extension to the transition period beyond December 2020 "would be helpful", not least because a lot of time had been lost in the negotiation as a result of the virus crisis.

"The idea that you're going to cobble together a realistic permanent arrangement might be complicated," he said.

And he added: ”I certainly hope that, when the moment arrives, what Europe will have learnt is perhaps not to posture on this particular issue of the extension, and that if countries in Europe require a 'stand back' extension as a matter of realpolitik, so that we can all start again with a full year ahead of us, then I hope that is the decision that is reached.”

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