Feetham highlights unity and accountability in New Year message
The Leader of the Opposition, Daniel Feetham, said the GSD remained committed to unity in the face of the Brexit challenges, but left no doubt the Opposition would continue to hold the Gibraltar Government to account for its decisions.
In a New Year’s message which focused on the Rock’s post-Brexit future, Mr Feetham set out where he sees opportunities for Gibraltar to prosper in the future.
But he was also critical of the Gibraltar Government’s “extravagant media spin, populism and unprecedented spending”.
Mr Feetham said that having told people during the referendum campaign that Gibraltar faces an existential threat to its current economic model, he would not now make a U-turn and say ‘everything is going to be ok’.
He said Gibraltar faces considerable difficulties as well as uncertainty, but he also emphasised that challenges bring opportunities.
“I remain optimistic that we will have new opportunities within the UK market, new opportunities outside the EU in markets such as Morocco and new opportunities as a consequence of the doing away of some of the excessive EU regulations that were foisted upon us by the European Union,” Mr Feetham said.
On Chief Minister Fabian Picardo’s call for unity in his own New Year’s message, Mr Feetham said he is a great believer in unity particularly when faced with external threats.
One of his first acts when he became Leader of the Opposition in 2013 was to bring a motion to parliament calling on the Government and the Opposition to work together, he said, adding that he renewed those calls once the result of the referendum was announced.
“But in circumstances where the Opposition has not been consulted on the strategy, doesn’t know what that strategy is, I think we’ve got a public duty to people to question what the government does and if we don’t agree with statements the government has made publicly then I think we’ve got a duty to say so.”
He pointed to comments made by the Government suggesting that ‘Gibraltar can have more Europe than the UK’ and declared that was “not sensible”.
He told viewers: “I think we have got to keep our negotiations very simple and therefore I’d be reneging on my duty to you if I didn’t make my views public.”
The key issues highlighted in the message – which, in a break from the standard approach of reading a prepared script, instead adopted a different, question and answer style – reflected themes consistently raise by the GSD in Opposition.
Shifting the focus away from Brexit, Mr Feetham took a swipe at Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and accused him of taking a “blind gamble” with Gibraltar’s public finances over the past four years.
He added that in 2011 when Mr Picardo was Leader of the Opposition he used to say that Gibraltar’s public finances were virtually bankrupt.
“…And then he went from virtual bankruptcy to the land of milk and honey within barely a year of getting elected,” Mr Feetham said.
The Leader of the Opposition stated that public debt has more than doubled in four years “with half of that hidden away in government owned companies”.
He further told viewers that the government has had to borrow an extra £300 million “not to replace existing debt but to pay for more promises that it made at the last election secured on mortgages on your government housing estates.”
On health, Mr Feetham flagged the £100 million annual cost of the health system and said the Government needs to listen to the staff and professionals there.
“In the past five years we have seen a Government that relies on extravagant media spin, populism and unprecedented spending,” he concluded.
“In the light of Brexit we now see how truly reckless that policy has been.”
“We will continue to hold the Government to account, which is our principal duty but where we are asked to work with the Government in the public interest we will do so and together we will help keep you and your families safe and secure.”