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Brexit

Gibraltar prepares for EU elections as May seeks extension to Brexit deadline

FILE PHOTO: The European Union flag, the Gibraltarian flag and The Union Flag are seen flying, at the border of Gibraltar with Spain, in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

- Picardo discusses latest developments with May

The Gibraltar Parliament unanimously passed legislation to enable Gibraltar to vote in the European election in May should this become necessary because of delays to Brexit.

Parliament approved an amendment to primary legislation to ensure the electoral register for the European Union election is ready despite the short window of time available.

The development came as Theresa May faced resistance over her request to the European Union for Brexit to be delayed potentially until June 30, with Brussels expected to insist on a longer extension.

The Prime Minister wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk requesting the delay, with an option to leave earlier if she can get a Brexit deal through Parliament.

Mrs May said she will seek to secure ratification of the deal before European elections on May 23, but will make "responsible preparations" for the UK to take part in the polls if that does not prove possible.

But cross-party talks with Labour appear to have stalled, with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer saying it was "disappointing" that Mrs May was refusing to consider changes to the terms of her deal.

The request for an extension will be considered at an emergency EU summit on April 10, where it requires the unanimous agreement of the leaders of the remaining 27 member states.

Mr Tusk is recommending a longer postponement of one year, with a break clause in the case of earlier ratification, in a so-called "flextension" deal.

Yesterday Chief Minister Fabian Picardo took a call from Prime Minister Theresa May and maintained a “friendly and positive” conversation on the latest Brexit developments, and on the future relationship with the EU.

The Chief Minister set out his government’s views on the extension of time being sought and the negotiation of the future relation between the UK and the EU, and received assurances from the Prime Minister on her continued support for Gibraltar.

Mr Picardo and the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, travel to London on Monday with officials to take part in a further JMC on Gibraltar's exit from the EU, which will allow for detailed discussion of Gibraltar-specific issues in this context.

“I was very pleased to be able to speak directly with the Prime Minister about the Gibraltar issues that concern us in respect of the developments we are seeing around the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union,” Mr Picardo said.

“Mrs May was, as ever, wholly supportive of Gibraltar and understanding of the matters which is raised with her. She is a staunch and reliable friend of Gibraltar.”

ELECTIONS?

The prospect of participating in the EU election means parliamentary staff and civil servants in Gibraltar are already engaged in discrete contact with UK counterparts in order to prepare for the vote on May 23-26 should it become necessary.

In parliament yesterday Mr Picardo said he was “very pleased” that Gibraltar was in this “difficult position”, adding that he welcomed the possibility of participating in the EU election even when everyone had expected Brexit to have occurred by now.

Mr Picardo, he has called for the Revocation of Article 50 and a people’s vote on any deal, said he had no doubt this community would fare better inside the EU than out of it, “despite the slaps” received over the past two years during the course of the Brexit talks.

“I hope all of the hard work over the past two years will have been wasted time,” he said.

In presenting the Bill, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said it was the product of the “uncertainty…and the shifting background” of the Brexit impasse in Westminster.

He said it was “bewildering” to have to prepare for an EU election even while finalising arrangements for departure, but added that “lack of certainty and confusion” had become the norm.

“We have had to provide for one of those many twists and turns that the Brexit process has thrown up,” Dr Garcia said.

The measure – together with a second Brexit-related Bill on the carriage of goods – was passed with the support of the Opposition, which has long called for a people’s vote too.

GSD MP Daniel Feetham said the prospect of participating in May’s EU election was “symptomatic of the chaos that Brexit has become”.

But he added in half-joking tone: “We hope that it is a sign of things to come and that in fact we will not be leaving the EU at all.”

While that might have seemed improbably just a few months ago, he said, “…it is now a distinct possibility.”

During the debate on the Bill, the Chief Minister also reflected briefly on the developments this in Brussels, where the European Parliament approved legislation for post-Brexit visa waivers that included a reference to Gibraltar as a colony.

He described the reference as “absolutely ridiculous” given Gibraltar’s hard-won franchise to participate in EU elections, adding: “Colonials do not vote for the parliament that describes them as colonials.”

During the course of his intervention, he referred to “the fools” in Brussels and was brought to task by the Speaker, Adolfo Canepa.

Mr Canepa said that normally he would describe such language as “unparliamentary”, before quickly adding to cheers across the floor that, on this occasion, he was tempted even to endorse it.