Cautious optimism in Gibraltar as Commons rejects 'no deal' Brexit
MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday dramatically rejected crashing out of the European Union without a deal at any time and under any circumstances.
In a surprise move, the Commons voted 312 to 308 - a majority of four - in favour of an amendment tabled by Tory former cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman.
Dame Caroline attempted to withdraw the amendment, but it was moved by fellow signatory Yvette Cooper and won the support of a majority of MPs during a string of crunch Brexit votes on Wednesday evening.
And the vote was later confirmed by a more emphatic 321 votes to 278, overriding a Government motion tabled by Theresa May which would have rejected no-deal on the scheduled date of March 29 but left it on the table for other times.
It clears the way for the Prime Minister to bring forward a motion for debate today on whether Parliament wants her to seek a delay to Brexit by requesting an extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation period.
However ‘no deal’ remains the default option in UK law unless an extension is agreed with the 27 other EU states, or a deal is passed before the end of the month.
To otherwise avoid a ‘no deal’, the Commons would have to amend the Withdrawal Act.
In Gibraltar, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo gave a cautious welcome to the seismic developments in London.
“This is a time of flux, the like of which is unknown to modern democracy,” he said.
“The British Government is being repeatedly defeated.”
“Tentative steps are being taken toward 'no deal' being entirely off the table but we are not safely there yet, until the Withdrawal Act is amended.”
“Tomorrow [meaning Thursday] will again be an important date.”
“For now, leaving the EU on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement and leaving without a deal at all are still options that could emerge.”
“Revocation of the Article 50 notification is, nonetheless, also now as likely a possibility.”
“That - leading to the United Kingdom and Gibraltar remaining within the European Union - would undoubtedly be the best outcome for Gibraltar.”
“But we cannot let down our guard. We must continue in these times of unprecedented flux, to plan for every eventuality even now.”
Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD, was also following the developments in Westminster closely and welcomed the developments too.
He said the GSD was hopeful that the Commons would support Thursday’s vote to extend Article 50 and that, if approved, the EU would grant this on an unconditional basis.
“The essential issues are unchanged for Gibraltar,” he told the Chronicle.
“We did not wish to leave the EU in 2016. Theresa May is desperately clinging on to try to ram through her version of the Withdrawal Agreement but that is a bad deal for Britain and a bad deal for Gibraltar.”
“It also does not respect the legitimacy of the vote of the Gibraltar people or those of Scotland or Northern Ireland.”
“The most democratically legitimate course now short of a revocation of Article 50 is for there to be a people’s vote on whether to remain or accept this flawed deal.”
“If the UK Parliament does not support such a deal, why should the British people?”
“At the very least the British people should have the right to say what they want from those options.”
Mr Azopardi also called on the Gibraltar Government to remain alert to any move by Spain to capitalise on the Brexit chaos in London to push on its Gibraltar agenda.
“As we look forward over coming weeks we trust the extension will be obtained on an unconditional basis and Government needs to be alive to the threat that Spain may seek to unreasonably pursue conditioning such a request,” he said.
“That would be unacceptable and we hope we will have the strong support of the Gibraltar lobby in the UK Parliament if that transpires.”
Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, who leads the Together Gibraltar party, said the Commons had delivered a decision to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.
“We note the curious decision of Theresa May to vote in favour of leaving without a deal should a consensus not be reached on her Withdrawal Agreement, which has been comprehensively rejected, twice,” she said.
“While there remains a possibility of pushing back the date for a departure, the EU have been vocal in their insistence on the need for a valid reason to extend.”
“Meanwhile, it is clear that the present UK government will push for any Brexit, deal or no deal, and so we need to double our efforts locally in preparation for this unfavourable possibility, because as we have seen in the last two years and in the last two days, it’s anyone’s guess as to what might happen in the end so it’s our obligation to prepare ourselves for whatever outcome that may transpire in the end.”
As the result was announced, the pound spiked to the day's high and was headed for its biggest daily gain in 2019.
As the UK’s three-year Brexit crisis spins towards its finale, diplomats and investors see four main options: a delay, May's deal passing at the last minute, an accidental no-deal exit or another referendum.
If Britain does seek a delay, it will require the agreement of all the bloc's other 27 members.
The EU would prefer only a short extension, with the deadline of EU-wide parliamentary elections due May 24-26, although it is unclear that this would be long enough to solve the impasse in London.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc would need to know why Britain wanted to extend talks and that it was up to London to find a way out of the deadlock. The EU said there could be no more negotiations on the divorce terms.
As Brexit uncertainty spills into financial markets across the world, investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are offering different probabilities on the outcomes.
"We continue to see a 55 percent chance that a close variant of the prime minister’s Brexit deal is eventually ratified, after a three-month extension of Article 50," Goldman said. It gave a reversal of Brexit a 35 percent probability and a no-deal Brexit 10 percent.
Britons voted by 52-48 percent in 2016 to leave the bloc, a decision that has split the main political parties and exposed deep rifts in British society.
Mrs May's deal covers such things as citizens' rights, the status of the Irish border and Britain's divorce bill from the EU. It takes Britain out of the EU single market and customs union, common fisheries and farm policies and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It also offers a status-quo transition period in which to negotiate trade arrangements.
The deal also includes a Gibraltar Protocol and four memorandums setting out a framework for cooperation with Spain on practical cross-border issues.
The Gibraltar Government says the protocol protects Gibraltar as it leaves the EU and ensure it is covered by the transition period, but the deal has been criticised by the GSD which says it hands Spain a say in Gibraltar’s affairs.
Under a ‘no deal’ exit, there would be no transition period to soften the disruption to trade and regulations.
Britain would quit the EU's 500 million-strong single market and customs union and fall back on World Trade Organisation rules, which could mean tariffs on many imports and exports.
Gibraltar has been preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, as has Spain, but despite those contingencies a hard exit from the EU could raise serious challenges in everything from logistics to the cross-border movement of people.