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Customs deal ‘an option’ that must be considered, Govt says as GSD presses for clarity

Freight trucks queue on the Spanish side of the border. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The Gibraltar Government insisted yesterday that agreeing a bespoke customs arrangement as part of the UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar remained an option that must be considered, but not a certainty.

The Government repeated its long-standing position after the GSD suggested a statement by the Chief Minister earlier this week signalled Gibraltar had no control on whether it would have to reach an agreement on customs as part of forthcoming treaty talks.

Last night, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo remained firm that while the New Year’s Eve framework agreement states there “will” be an agreement on free movement, it adds only that there “could” be a deal on customs.

Pressed by the Chronicle on whether a deal on freedom of movement was possible in the absence of a parallel customs arrangement, Mr Picardo said this was “entirely feasible”.

“The simple issue is how customs controls could negate the effect of immigration fluidity,” he said.

For that reason, Gibraltar had no option but to explore the implications of a deal on goods, he added.

The exchange yesterday arose after the GSD called for wider consultation on a potential customs agreement beyond government experts and the Treaty Liaison and Advisory Committee, which brings together officials, business and labour representatives.

It urged the Government to prepare a consultation paper but Chief Minister Fabian Picardo replied that this would only be relevant “in the context of an issue on which the Government has the freedom to choose to move in one direction or another.”

For the GSD, that was a “shocking” admission that the question of Gibraltar entering into customs arrangements as part of the treaty was not a matter of “could”, but of “will”.

“The Chief Minister’s statement is shocking in its admission that the customs union is not something the government or Gibraltar has the freedom to make a choice over,” said Roy Clinton, the GSD Shadow Minster for Public Finance and Small Businesses.

“This is a serious matter as all prior statements have highlighted it as merely an option in the Framework Agreement but not a must.”

“If this is true then all the Government is doing is tinkering around the edges as to what will be included in the so-called bespoke customs union.”

“Given Sir Joe Bossano has stated publicly on more than one occasion he is against joining the customs union, the government needs to set out its position clearly.”

“Is the Government being forced to accept the customs union as it was the tax treaty because Spain demands it?”

“It is unacceptable for the Chief Minister to consider the customs union as a given in the framework agreement and it makes a nonsense of the work of the Treaty Liaison and Advisory Committee and indeed a complete mockery of parliamentary oversight.”

For the government, the GSD’s analysis was “nonsensical”.

A potential agreement on customs was “…not an option we have chosen to consider but an option that we must consider if we want to secure maximum fluidity,” Mr Picardo said.

The Chief Minister said the government was working with all industry representative bodies and all relevant commercial operators in analysing the different relevant permutations for arrangements in respect of goods.

This, he added, includes the potential to do no arrangements at all in respect of fluidity of goods.

“Roy Clinton and Keith Azopardi are being intellectually and politically dishonest,” Mr Picardo said.

“They either do not understand the most basic of the issues in play in respect of the treaty negotiations with the EU or they are purposely misrepresenting them in order to rabble-rouse for their own, shallow, partisan purposes.”

“We are talking to all affected industry groups through the TLAC. We are talking to industry leaders. We are open to representations from anyone with concerns.”

“We have all options available to us and we have worked and are working to get the options for Gibraltar right.”

“Whilst we do that, all that Mr Clinton and Mr Azopardi do is resort to trying to mislead people.”

“It is clear to me that the primary for the leadership of the GSD is underway and that half their parliamentary party is just out to out-do each other in getting noticed for those purposes.”

“The issue of our future relationship with the EU Customs Union is too serious for us to be having arguments of form over substance on consolation and on the ambit of options open to us, when in fact, all options are open to us in the negotiation.”

“I do wish that, for once, the GSD could see that this issue is one that is too important for narrow, partisan argument and that they would engage constructively on the subject, [but] I won't hold my breath.”

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