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Picardo and Garcia fly to London as UK ramps up preparations for hard Brexit

A demonstrator holds a placard during an anti-Brexit protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Gibraltar’s Brexit team flew to London yesterday to discuss contingency plans for a ‘no deal’ Brexit with UK ministers, as Theresa May’s Cabinet agreed to ramp up preparations for a hard exit from the EU.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, and Attorney General Michael Llamas will also discuss strategy for future negotiations should Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement survive a vote in the House of Commons.

"We have a duty to work and continue working tirelessly on finding the best solutions for Gibraltar for all potential eventualities,” Mr Picardo said.

“That includes continuing our work with the UK Government and lobbying our political counterparts in London without pause.”

“This is what enables us to manoeuvre Gibraltar into as advantageous a position as we can secure,” he added.

“We do this in the context of unprecedented turmoil in the British political establishment - something to be bemoaned, not celebrated - but confident that we have covered all bases.”

“My work and the work of this Government in this respect is far from over as we look at all potential strands for continued and further action.”

“This includes ensuring that we make clear our view that the best and safest option for Gibraltar in the event that Mrs May's deal is eventually not accepted is a straight revocation of the Article 50 notification.”

The Chief Minister was speaking as the UK Government announced it would implement in full its plans for a no-deal Brexit, including telling businesses and citizens to prepare for the risk of leaving the EU without an deal to soften the blow of departure.

With just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the EU, Mrs May is yet to win the support of a deeply divided parliament for the deal she struck last month with Brussels to maintain close ties with the bloc.

She has said a delayed vote on her deal will take place in mid-January, prompting some MPs to accuse her of trying to force parliament into backing her by running down the clock as the March 29 exit day approaches.

Mrs May, who last week survived a confidence vote in her Conservative Party, has warned MPs that the alternatives to her deal are leaving without an agreement or no Brexit.

Her spokesman said while the government's priority remained leaving with a deal - which was the most likely scenario - it would now implement its no-deal plans "in full".

"Cabinet agreed ... we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations. This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our no deal plans," he said.

Additionally, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay warned that unless MPs back Mrs May's deal when it returns to the Commons in January the default option is for the UK to leave without any exit arrangement in place.

"Parliament needs to back the deal because the consequence of not doing so is we risk the default of no-deal, and a responsible Government must prepare for that eventuality," said Mr Barclay.

"That is what we agreed at Cabinet. That is what we are going to do."

He dismissed alternative plans being pushed by ministers - including a second referendum or a "managed" no-deal under which arrangements are made with Brussels to limit any negative impacts of severing ties with the EU.

"There are a number of scenarios being floated in Government without, I think, people really engaging on the consequences of that - either the consequence to our democracy of not delivering on the referendum, not having Brexit - or the idea that we can cherry-pick and have some managed no-deal where the EU will suspend its own red lines, which I don't think is feasible."

In a direct plea to the UK's company bosses, he said that preparing for no-deal needed to be "much more of a priority for businesses up and down the country".

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said that ramping up the preparations did not mean a no-deal outcome, telling colleagues: "Just because you put a seatbelt on doesn't mean that you should crash the car."

Ms Rudd, who campaigned for Remain in the referendum, urged other ministers to consider job losses in their constituencies in the case of no-deal.

Adding that Britain will have a positive future post-Brexit if it gets a deal, she said "we have to put politics aside" and talk across the House to build a consensus, putting "country before politics".

Yesterday the Chief Minister also responded to the latest salvo of criticism levelled by the GSD at his government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations.

The GSD said the government should have secured enduring gains for Gibraltar during the withdrawal phase of the negotiation and said the Gibraltar protocol and associated agreements handed a say to Spain in Gibraltar’s affairs.

But the government has dismissed those claims and described the GSD’s analysis of Brexit as “amateurish”.

“It seems clear now to me as it does to so many in this community, that the Opposition party has failed to live up to the expectation of our nation or the needs of this difficult moment,” Mr Picardo said yesterday.

According to the Chief Minister the party has failed to understand the nuances of the position of Gibraltar and how much the Government have achieved.

“They have forgotten the sense of despair and concern in Gibraltar after the result of the referendum was announced and how we turned our nation away from the potential for the worst,” he said.

“They want to forget and ignore that we have delivered continued economic growth, even in these challenging circumstances.”

“That is what history will see we have achieved in protecting our people for any of the eventualities that may arise on March 29 next year.”

Mr Picardo said: “History will judge them harshly for their baseless criticisms designed to bang a flash drum to seek political support which will just not be there.”

“The GSD are devoid of talent, devoid of sincerity and devoid of any sense of duty to this community.”

“They are so determined to gain even the slightest political advantage at any cost, that they are now visibly celebrating any developments which might appear to pose a serious threat to Gibraltar.”

“That is a very poor way to serve this community. Our people can see and compare our hard and diligent approach to the work required, which is in stark contrast to the amateur, cheap ‘keyboard warrior’ posturing of the GSD in respect of this issue.”

“Indeed, the trivialisation of these issues by the GSD is an unfortunate and disrespectful dismissal of the hard work of the Government and the Civil Service, work that often goes unrecognised.”

“Daniel Feetham, the de facto Leader of the Opposition, the most active and effective of the motley crew of the ‘new’ GSD, has, to his credit, at least recognised this hard work in saying that he was of the view that the Government has left ‘no stone unturned’.”

“The same is true of Hassan Nahon, also a member of the Parliament's Brexit Select Committee, who, when push has come to shove, has demonstrated more mature approach than the much diminished Mr Azopardi.”

Mr Picardo said he would continue to focus on securing the best deals for Gibraltar under “very difficult circumstances”.

“I fully intend to ignore the silly name calling from some factions in the GSD,” he said.

“There is too much important work to do to waste time replying to an incoherent and fractured group of amateurs with nothing to do but take pot shots at us to get their names in the news.”

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