Gibraltar continues with ‘prudent and sensible’ preparations as EU agrees Brexit ‘flextension’
The European Union yesterday agreed a three-month flexible delay to Britain's exit from the bloc as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed for an election after opponents forced him to request an extension he had vowed never to ask for.
Just days before the United Kingdom – and with it Gibraltar - is formally due to leave the EU on October 31 at 2300 GMT, Brexit is hanging in the balance, with British politicians no closer to reaching a consensus on how, when or even if the divorce should take place at all.
Mr Johnson, who won the top job in July by vowing, "do or die", to deliver Brexit on October 31, was driven to request a postponement after he was defeated in parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his divorce deal.
The 27 countries that will remain in the EU agreed on Monday to put off Brexit until the end of January, with an earlier departure possible should the faction-ridden UK parliament ratify the separation deal Johnson agreed with the bloc.
"The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK's request for a Brexit 'flextension' until 31 January 2020," European Council President Donald Tusk said in a tweet, referring to the concept of a flexible extension.
EU member states will need Britain to formally reply to its offer of a three-month delay before launching a "written procedure" whereby governments will have 24 hours to accept or reject.
Mr Johnson, who lacks a majority in parliament, is obliged by legislation passed last month to accept an extension once offered.
Mr Johnson will respond to the EU's delay offer once he has reviewed the details, his spokesman said on Monday.
With British politics still paralysed over carrying out Brexit 3-1/2 years after a 52%-48% referendum vote in favour of leaving the EU, Mr Johnson demanded parliament approve an election on December 12 in return for more time to adopt his deal.
Hours after the 27 countries remaining in the EU backed his reluctant request for a delay, Mr Johnson attempted to force a snap election on December 12 in the hope of finally winning a majority to pass the divorce deal he has negotiated with Brussels.
But his third attempt to call such an election gathered only 299 votes in parliament, short of the 424 - or two-thirds of the house - that he needed.
After the vote, Mr Johnson said he would try again, by a legislative route that would only require a simple majority.
"We will not allow this paralysis to continue and, one way or another, we must proceed straight to an election," Mr Johnson told parliament. "This House cannot any longer keep this country hostage."
To follow this route, Mr Johnson will need the support of opposition parties such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats.
These have been pushing for a December 9 election, aiming to ensure that Johnson cannot try again to rush his divorce deal through.
The developments were being closely monitored in Gibraltar, where preparations continued for all Brexit eventualities including a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU.
As port staff conducted trials with a ferry that will carry some perishable goods to Gibraltar from Algeciras in the event of a hard Brexit, the Gibraltar Government said its position remained unchanged.
For No.6 Convent Place, the best deal for Gibraltar would be to remain in the EU together with the UK, reflecting the view of 96% of the electorate here as expressed in the 2016 referendum.
No.6 said it had protected Gibraltar in the event a deal was agreed and had finalised a protocol, for MoUs and a tax treaty as part of the process.
While those agreements have been criticised by opposition parties in Gibraltar, they would mean that in the event the UK Parliament ratifies the deal between now and the end of January, the transitional period will automatically apply to Gibraltar at least until the end of 2020. There is provision for this to be extended to the end of 2021 or 2022.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, preparations continue to finalise and test different contingency plans that have been put in place over the past year.
Given the political flux in the UK and the possibility of a general election, a second referendum or even revocation of Article 50, the government said it would continue to take “prudent and sensible steps” to protect Gibraltar.
"We have been preparing to ensure that we ready for absolutely any Brexit eventuality. Just today we have finished testing alternative port facilities for post-Brexit contingencies,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“The work led by the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, in this respect is meticulous and is carefully being delivered in time for the deadline we were facing.”
“We will now continue to prepare, as it is never a waste of time to ensure Gibraltar has the ability to guarantee resilience for our community.”
“We will also continue to monitor developments in London and Brussels and will continue our engagement with key players.”
“For now, it appears that the threat of a hard Brexit on Thursday is now receding - although we look forward to final confirmation of this as a matter of law.”
“Indeed, it would appear that hard Brexit is now increasingly unlikely as the UK Parliament has voted for the second reading of the UK Withdrawal Agreement Bill.”
“We will therefore properly calibrate the use of resources in this respect going forward. In this respect, everyone involved in planning for a hard Brexit in every European capital will, no doubt, breathe a sigh of relief.”
“Now we must observe what happens in elections in Spain next month and potentially also in the United Kingdom before the end of the year."
Reuters and PA contributed to this article.