Picardo puts Brexit centre stage as Gibraltar heads to polls on October 12 after ‘toughest four years’
- GSD focuses on thorny domestic issues and GSLP/Liberals’ ‘false narratives’
- TG acknowledges party ‘may not have the strength’ for electoral slate
Gibraltar’s electorate has 31 days to decide who they will vote for after caretaker Chief Minister Fabian Picardo on Tuesday called a general election for Thursday, October 12, focusing much of his announcement on the need to secure a treaty for Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the EU.
Mr Picardo hopes to secure a fourth term in office after what he called the “toughest four years” Gibraltar has faced, and stressed a treaty was in the advanced stages despite complex negotiations being currently on hold due to political post-electoral flux in Spain and Gibraltar’s own election timetable.
His core message to Gibraltarians was clear: now was “not the time to change the team”.
Mr Picardo had already signalled he would place Brexit and the pending treaty talks at the centre of this election, but domestic issues will figure prominently too as the Opposition puts the focus on the McGrail Inquiry, public finances and the delivery of services.
On Tuesday, as Mr Picardo returned from a meeting in The Convent where he advised the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, to dissolve Parliament, there was a reminder of disgruntlement in the community as striking bus drivers demonstrated outside No.6 Convent Place.
Mr Picardo was greeted by staff of the Gibraltar Bus Company who are currently in a pay dispute with the Government, many of them refusing to shake his hand as he approached them.
Inside No.6 during a press conference that was broadcast live, Mr Picardo told Gibraltarians the GSLP/Liberals were the team with “the vision and the commitment” to push Gibraltar through this challenging period.
He was flanked by caretaker Deputy Chief Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party, Dr Joseph Garcia, during the address.
The past four years of Mr Picardo’s term have been marked by a global pandemic, ongoing treaty negotiations and a war in Ukraine.
“The last four years have been, without doubt, the toughest four years this community has ever faced,” Mr Picardo told journalists.
“Gibraltar’s pandemic Parliament has also been the backdrop of the toughest negotiations any government of Gibraltar has ever been engaged upon, as we have sought to agree the long and detailed terms upon which we would build our future relationship with the European Union.”
“With grit and determination, we pushed through Covid, and with the same grit and determination, we have done everything in our power to defend Gibraltar’s interests through Brexit.”
“Our work on the withdrawal agreement ensured we have avoided the hardest Brexit to date. Our work has ensured that we have been able to avoid the worst of the negative implications leaving the EU could have on Gibraltar.”
“We are in advanced discussions with officials from the EU, Spain and the UK. We are on the cusp of a historic deal in which all parties win and none lose.”
“For me and the GSLP Liberal team that I lead and have led for 12 years, a deal can only be done if it respects the red lines that we hold dear.”
But despite the challenges, Mr Picardo spoke of high points in his tenure, including construction of affordable housing and new school buildings, adding he has the “commitment, conviction and connection” to lead Gibraltar.
“It is the GSLP/Liberals who have the strongest foundations for our strong economic performance over such a long period of time,” Mr Picardo said.
“For the last 12 years we have been getting the job done in housing, in education, in health and on the environment, on equality, justice and the social issues.”
“We have been getting the job done of building a modern, vibrant community that cherishes freedom of choice and mutual respect among its citizens.”
Mr Picardo recognised that after three terms in office not all his decisions in Government had been popular.
“Sometimes the people who fall out with you [do so] because you’ve done the right thing,” Mr Picardo said.
“You’ve done the thing that everybody else believes should be done and is indeed the right thing for you to do as a government.”
“Because as a government you’re representing all citizens and all of the taxpayers, not just giving to those who want.”
“And sometimes, necessarily, some noses will be put out of joint.”
“Being in government to a very great extent is about keeping all the plates spinning, with enough inertia, with enough finance that things keep going,” Mr Picardo added.
“That’s what management is about. And unfortunately there are some people who are disgruntled.”
“I tell them with my hand on my heart that we have not failed them in any way that is designed to hurt them.”
Less than three hours after the election announcement, the GSLP/Liberals held their first press conference in their new campaign headquarters on Main Street.
Mr Picardo and Dr Garcia, as leaders of their respective parties, were joined by GSLP campaign chairman Albert Isola, campaign manager for the Liberal Party Neil Costa, campaign manager for the GSLP Peter Cabezutto and Chairman of the GSLP Pepe Baldachino.
The GSLP executive was set to meet on Tuesday afternoon and the chairman will then invite nominations for candidates.
The party executive will vote on a slate and will then propose that slate of GSLP candidates to an EGM of the GSLP membership.
“I have no doubt that in the course of the next few days you will hear that different names will be coming forward in the context of the lineup that we are going to present,” Mr Picardo said.
“There will be new faces in the GSLP/Liberal lineup [but] we will represent continuity as well as change.”
“It’s clear to me that some colleagues are determined that they will not be able to stand for personal reasons and therefore that there will be gaps in the lineup from those who have already been ministers and that the GSLP liberal lineup will represent an element of change whilst also representing that continuity and experience.”
Dr Garcia added nominations are open and members are invited to put their names forward.
However neither leader would be drawn on potential candidates.
Reacting to the announcement, GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said the October 12 date came as no surprise.
Mr Picardo had underlined the pending treaty talks as a key issue for voters to consider when they go to the polls, but Mr Azopardi put the focus squarely on thorny domestic issues including the McGrail Inquiry.
He noted that the inquiry was due to have started its main hearing late September but that this had now been postponed, with another preliminary hearing likely to take place late October.
Given the “unprecedented and serious” allegations of improper conduct being made against the Mr Picardo – the allegations are firmly denied - Mr Azopardi said it was “inconceivable” that Mr Picardo would have called an election while the inquiry was sitting.
“At last the waiting is over. People now know that they will have a chance on 12 October to make the change,” Mr Azopardi said.
“Many people cannot wait for that date to send a strong message to Mr Picardo and his Government for their failings over so many areas.”
“We have been ready for months and will soon roll out our exciting programme for Government to get Gibraltar back on track and achieve a bright future.”
“Over the last couple of weeks we have been treated to a torrential shower of glossy pictures and announcements.”
“The GSLP/Libs have a track record that suggests that many projects either die at the glossy announcement stage or suffer years and years of delay.”
“The examples are too numerous to list. No one who has suffered at the hands of their broken promises will now believe their last minute further round of them.”
“The GSLP/Libs have had to borrow money to pay civil service wages.”
“No one will believe there is such a miraculous recovery that they can splash millions on all the projects they now say they want to do.”
“The date had been expected because Mr Picardo is running scared from the McGrail Inquiry and was always going to choose a date which was clean of hearings in that case.”
“He has nothing left in the tank other than a further round of unrealistic promises against a backdrop of a public finances crisis.”
Mr Azopardi accused Mr Picardo of “peddling false narratives” in the run-up to yesterday’s announcement, including on Brexit, Andorra and the GSD’s attitude to women’s reproductive rights.
He said the GSLP/Liberals had nothing left but to resort to “lies and spin”.
“The sooner Gibraltar is rid of this administration the better,” Mr Azopardi said.
“It is now part of the problem and has run its course after being elected on a ticket of being the New Dawn.”
“They have ended up being a false dawn to many.”
“They have returned to old unaccountable ways and have left Gibraltar with unprecedented levels of debt of £1.9 billion.”
“There is no running from that stark reality which is Mr Picardo’s legacy to future generations.”
“They are a Government of the privileged few and unable to put in place the controls on waste, abuse and corruption that are necessary.”
“Gibraltar needs change and a party ready for Government and only the GSD can provide that.”
Mr Azopardi said the GSD would seek to deliver “a safe and beneficial” Brexit agreement “given that Mr Picardo has had seven years and failed”.
“We will bring public finances under control and introduce robust controls on waste, abuse, and corruption,” he said.
“We will govern better – with no more lies.”
“We will reform public services and plan better for a sustainable future with quality of life and opportunity for all.”
“That is the GSD vision for a bright future for you and your family.”
The GSD executive committee was due to meet on Tuesday evening to begin the process of selecting its candidates for the election.
Mr Azopardi said he would ask the party’s executive to set deadlines for nomination of candidates and for the selection meeting.
The GSD’s focus on the McGrail Inquiry drew an immediate response from the government, signalling a clear battle line for the forthcoming electoral campaign.
Mr Picardo dismissed any suggestion that the timing of the election was linked to the inquiry, insisting he had long made clear he had the date of the vote clear in his mind as far back as two years ago.
The timing was linked to the end of major projects including the new schools and affordable homes, as well as the National Day events.
He said he had wanted to go to the polls before October 17, the date of the 2019 election, so as not to exceed the four-year term.
Mr Picardo urged Mr Azopardi “not to muddy the waters”.
“Mr Azopardi clearly wants to make this election about the McGrail Inquiry,” Mr Picardo said.
“He wants to politically use the McGrail Inquiry to try and deflect from the fact that now, on the cusp of a future relationship treaty with the EU, this is not the time to change Government.”
“As I have already said on many occasions, I am entirely confident that the inquiry will find I acted entirely properly throughout.”
“The inquiry could not come soon enough as far as I am concerned, as it will reveal the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
“That truth will show I acted entirely properly throughout and as every Gibraltarian and resident of Gibraltar would have expected me to act in all of the circumstances which were relevant at each moment.”
“I therefore make it absolutely clear to Mr Azopardi and the GSD that the announcement of the general election for Thursday 12th October has no connection whatsoever to the McGrail Inquiry.”
“For Mr Azopardi to continue to pretend otherwise is just to seek to mislead the public with untruths.”
Together Gibraltar acknowledged on Tuesday that it may not be able to field a slate of candidates at the forthcoming general election.
Just a week ago after the GSD executive voted against a proposal tabled by party leader Keith Azopardi to form an alliance to avoid splitting the opposition vote, TG insisted it intended to present its own candidates.
But on Tuesday, in the immediate wake of the announcement by Mr Picardo that Gibraltar would go to the polls on October 12, the party said now may not be the right time.
It followed the decision earlier this summer by former leader and party founder Marlene Hassan Nahon, TG’s only MP, that she would leave frontline politics when parliament was dissolved.
“We are still working hard to put together a slate but may have to acknowledge that we do not have the strength right now,” said TG’s new leader Nick Calamaro.
“Various factors have contributed to our lack of momentum and we want to make sure that any team we do run would add value to the political debate.”
“What we can say is that we’re extremely confident in our future and the team we have now.”
“Our executive has been strengthened with some new additions and faces from the old Together Gibraltar movement.”
“They are truly committed to the party and to fighting for a genuine, progressive political alternative.”
And he added: “We are confident that even if we cannot run this time, we will keep working to give Gibraltar an effective and consistent opposition while we keep growing our movement as a place where ordinary Gibraltarians can make a difference.”
“Our job now is to prove to the electorate over the next four years that Together Gibraltar has what it takes to be a major force in Gibraltar politics.”
“We will keep building on Marlene’s tremendous efforts which have proven that there is a home for all of us who want a different kind of politics.”
UPDATED: This post was updated just after 8pm to include further information as the day unfolded.