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GSD says Govt ‘sidelined parliament’ and avoided ‘proper scrutiny’ of tax deal

GSD Headqtrs 27- 10 -18 (Photos Johnny Bugeja ) is the centre/centre-right political party in Gibraltar. Founded 1989

The Gibraltar Government was last night accused of deliberately side-lining the Gibraltar Parliament and preventing proper scrutiny of the tax treaty with Spain.

In a strongly-worded statement, the GSD said the government had made “a farce” of the consultation process with the Opposition over the “bilateral UK-Spain tax treaty”.

The GSD said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had promised last January to share a copy of the draft agreement with MPs on the Gibraltar Parliament’s Brexit Select Committee.

But that meeting never happened and the first the Opposition knew about the treaty was at the weekend, after Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters that the agreement had been finalised.

The treaty was signed on Monday by Mr Borell and the UK’s de facto Deputy Prime Minister, David Lidington.

Although the treaty was negotiated by the Gibraltar Government, Spain and the UK, it was signed on Gibraltar’s before by Mr Lidington because the UK retains constitutional responsibility for the Rock’s external affairs.

The GSD said that in the wake of the signing, the government embarked on a media campaign to promote “the virtues” of the deal, even though the text had not been published.

It accused No.6 Convent Place of “…a clear attempt to present the treaty in a vacuum when it was impossible to independently verify whether this is a good or bad deal for Gibraltar.”

“It is clear that there has been a systematic attempt by the Government to prevent any possible independent evaluation of this agreement before it carried out a media barrage on how fantastic a deal they say this was,” said GSD MP Trevor Hammond.

The GSD said the government had last week convened a meeting of the Brexit Select Committee on Tuesday this week, meaning it must have known that matters in respect of the treaty were entering a crucial phase.

It said that for the treaty to have been signed without showing the Brexit Select Committee was “in total breach” of the Chief Minister’s commitments to MPs.

On Tuesday, Mr Hammond raised this issue but the government refused to provide the Opposition with a copy of the document, saying it would be laid in Parliament on March 14.

In the event though, it was published less than 24 hours later, alongside an explanatory document and a video giving “further spin” as to how the treaty should be understood.

The GSD said it was “inconceivable” that the government had not already prepared this material when it said the treaty would be laid in Parliament on March 14, adding that the “explainer” was dated March 5, the same day as the briefing to the select committee.

It questioned why the government had withheld the document initially, only to publish a day later.

“This is a Government that wants to have a monopoly on the public presentation of this agreement without allowing any real scrutiny,” said Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD.

“The GSD will now consider the terms and effects of this Treaty and make its position known after proper evaluation of it.”