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Opposition urges wide consultation on potential customs arrangements

Jon Nazca/REUTERS

The GSD yesterday said it was concerned that the Gibraltar Government was not planning a formal public consultation on any potential bespoke customs arrangements envisaged as part of negotiations for a UK/EU treaty for Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the bloc.

The GSD said the potential changes arising from such an arrangement should be discussed and analysed as widely as possible.

But the government said it was already engaged in detailed work with experts, representative bodies and the UK Government, and that this preparation would continue.

The issue arose after the Government told the Opposition at the last session of Parliament that it would rely on its experts and the input of the Treaty Liaison and Advisory Committee in order to prepare its position on this issue ahead of the treaty talks.

“It is perplexing that the Government has not issued a consultation paper on the concept of a bespoke customs union and invited wider participation from the community and businesses alike,” said Roy Clinton, the GSD’s Shadow Minister for Public Finance.

“This is a seminal decision in our economic history and it is ludicrous that the Government invites consultation on matters such as the regulation of electric scooters, but not on a matter as important as this.”

Mr Clinton said that while the Chief Minister had stated that much work had been carried out to prepare the Gibraltar/UK negotiating mandate, TLAC had met just once and there had been no wider consultation on the issue of customs.

He said any such consultation would remain confidential and would not affect Gibraltar’s negotiating position, adding that there had been no mention of a potential customs arrangement with the EU in the GSLP/Liberal manifesto at the last election.

“This matter is far too important and complex to be decided unilaterally by Government as it could have significant impact on businesses and an increased cost of products to Gibraltarians if VAT is to be introduced,” Mr Clinton said.

“The proper course of action is to consult as widely as possible and not as narrowly as the Government seems intent on doing.”

Mr Clinton said the government had in 2018 committed to consultation on “far less fundamental” proposals to rationalise legislation affecting businesses and commerce.

“How is this different when a Customs Union would fundamentally affect trade and commerce in a way not ever seen?” he asked.

“How is it right to confine the consultation to a few voices round the table and not enjoy the widest possible debate on this fundamental issue affecting our economic model?”

Last night, responding to Mr Clinton, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said a consultation paper would only be relevant in the context of an issue on which the Government “had the freedom to choose to move in one direction or another”.

“Here we are in the process of working out negotiating options in direct consultation with all the representative bodies that have an interest in this aspect of the negotiation,” he said.

“As a government we have views we have aired publicly and which Sir Joe Bossano shared with Mr Clinton on public television last week.”

“We will continue our detailed consultation work with the affected parties and our detailed work with the United Kingdom as we prepare for the treaty negotiations.”

“Pointless press releases won’t help to better prepare Gibraltar for the negotiation to come.”

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