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GSD would welcome second Brexit referendum

A rain damaged placard in favour of a second Brexit referendum features pictures of former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and former Transport Minister Jo Johnson, in Westminster, London, Britain, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Photo caption: A rain damaged placard in Westminster in favour of a second Brexit referendum features pictures of former Brexiteer Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his brother, Jo Johnson, who backed Remain and resigned as Transport Minister last Friday over concerns about the UK’s handling of Brexit. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

The GSD has said that while it will not set its political stall on an “unlikely” second Brexit referendum, it would welcome the prospect of a second vote and the chance to seek to remain in the European Union.

In a statement setting out its position on the prospect of a second ‘people’s vote’, the GSD said: “Post the Brexit referendum the dynamic has shifted to negotiating the best outcome for Gibraltar that would see us get the benefit of any good transitional and permanent arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU.”

Those efforts should continue and they deserve the greatest focus, the party added.

“If in the context of the ongoing political process in the UK a so-called People’s Vote acquires momentum which would allow people to choose between accepting the deal worked out by the UK or remaining within the EU we would support such a referendum.”

The GSD added: “We recognise, for the moment, that this appears to be politically unlikely as circumstances presently exist in the UK.”

“We do not therefore set our political stall on this but would welcome it if it means that we would have the chance to have a second vote to seek to remain in the EU.”

In a separate development, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez yesterday urged Theresa May to call a second referendum on Brexit, becoming the most prominent EU leader to push for a second vote.

“If I was Theresa May, I would call a second referendum — no doubt,” Mr Sánchez told POLITICO in an interview at La Moncloa, the government headquarters in Madrid.

Although EU leaders frequently express their regret that Brexit is happening, they have for the most part avoided backing a second vote for fear of appearing to interfere in the UK’s Brexit debate.

So far only Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Andrej Babiš, his counterpart in the Czech Republic, have called for a second Brexit vote.

With most polls nudging only slightly in favour of Remain despite grinding negotiations with the EU, the question of a second poll has until recently looked like something of a moot point — particularly since Mrs May herself has categorically ruled it out.

But a mass protest by around 700,000 people in London last month calling for a second vote, plus the resignation of mid-ranking minister Jo Johnson, have given new momentum to the cause.

Mr Johnson, who is the brother of former Foreign Secretary Boris, said that Mrs May is offering the country a choice between “vassalage and chaos.”

He added that “the democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say.”

Mr Sánchez described the UK as a “marvellous country” which has exerted a “positive influence” on European politics.

In the interview with POLITICO, Mr Sánchez warned that no good would come from the UK’s departure from the bloc.

He told the publication that it would be ‘painful’ for both Britain and the EU.

“It’s true that we’re now on the verge of signing a transition deal,” he said, adding: “I’d like to see the British government calling a second referendum. I don’t mean now, but in the future, so that it can come back to the EU. In another way, but back into the EU.”

British and EU negotiators worked through the weekend to complete a deal on terms of the UK’s departure.

The treaty must be ratified by the UK and European parliaments and some EU27 officials have speculated that a second referendum would only be possible if Mrs May fails to win the votes needed to push the withdrawal treaty through parliament.

A second referendum might first therefore require the collapse of her government.

But most people advocating for it in the UK envisage it happening before Britain’s formal departure, because they think it would be hard to re-enter the EU on the favourable terms that the country currently enjoys.

EU27 officials have been extremely reluctant to intercede in the UK’s internal political debate on Brexit, viewing it as out of their control.

Brussels also does not want any blame should Mrs May lose her grip on power.

Mr Sánchez told POLITICO that the UK is a “marvellous country” which has exerted a “positive influence” on European politics, but has now taken a path of “self-absorption which isn’t going to be good either for the UK or for Europe.”

“I believe it’s a great loss for both and I hope it can be reconsidered in the future,” he told the publication.

Spain will become the fourth-biggest country in the EU after Brexit.

But the close relationship with the UK, the leading recipient of Spanish foreign investment and the source of nearly 19 million tourists to Spain last year, means Madrid faces the risk of a sizeable, negative economic impact from Britain’s departure.

This would particularly be true under a no-deal Brexit scenario, which could also deeply disrupt the lives of the about 240,000 British citizens living in Spain.

The government estimates the real number of Brits living in Spain is even higher.

Mr Sánchez said it is not “democratic” to decide to leave the EU with 51 percent support.

Following pledges by Mrs May to uphold the rights of EU citizens living in the UK even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Sánchez committed to doing the same for British citizens in Spain.

“I appreciate and thank very much Prime Minister May’s commitment to safeguarding those rights,” he said. “We will do the same with the 300,000 Britons who’re in Spain.”

This promise was also made by Spain’s previous conservative administration.

In any case, Mr Sánchez said Madrid wants negotiators to achieve a divorce deal with an approach “as pragmatic as possible,” and which also “prioritizes the general interest of the ensemble of the EU.”

“We’re now closer to an agreement than three weeks ago and let’s hope therefore that we can reach an agreement in December,” he said.

Mr Sánchez argued that the negative impact of Brexit can already be seen in the “hundreds of thousands of demonstrators” advocating for Remain in British streets or in the Scottish plans for a second vote on secession from the United Kingdom.

Spanish politicians across the spectrum have long been unsettled about the possibility that Scottish secession — and much more an eventual fast-track entrance of an independent Scotland into the EU — could encourage Spain’s own secessionist movement in Catalonia.

So even as Mr Sánchez urged a second referendum on Brexit, he voiced his opposition to the first Brexit vote — he said it isn’t “democratic” to decide to leave the EU with 51 percent support — and cautioned against public votes in potential breakaway regions.

“All these kind of referendums do is fragment … and polarize societies,” he said.

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