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Treaty negotiations to continue as Sunak calls July 4 election

Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA

The UK General Election called by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday will not stop negotiations for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told Parlament.The Prime Minister called a General Election for July 4, saying it was “the moment for Britain to choose its future”.

The election comes at a critical time for the treaty negotiations, with the UK, Gibraltar, Spain and the European Commission pointing to “important breakthroughs” after two high-level meetings in recent weeks, albeit a deal remains elusive.

Hours before Mr Sunak’s announcement, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the Spanish Parliament negotiators were “very close” to “a historic milestone” agreement that could be sealed “in the coming weeks”.

The announcement of a UK General Election, coupled to the EU elections in the first week of June, raised fears of the negotiation being kicked into a hiatus.

But in the Gibraltar Parliament on Wednesday, just minutes after Mr Sunak made his announcement outside No.10 Downing Street, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo took a call outside the chamber and returned to say talks would continue.

“After the conversations I've had a moment ago, I can confirm that we will be able to continue the negotiations during the period of purdah,” Mr Picardo told Parliament, referring to the term used to describe the period between the announcement of an election and the formation of a new elected government, during which there are limits on what the acting government can do in order to ensure impartiality.

“This is an issue that enjoys cross party support in the United Kingdom and the work continues to secure that treaty and I'm sure that whoever is returned to office after the 4th of July in the United Kingdom, the Government that I lead will be able to work well and closely together in the interests of Gibraltar and its people and our continued exclusive British sovereignty.”

Mr Picardo thanked the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their support in past months for Gibraltar, in particular on the treaty negotiations with the EU and Spain.

He also thanked all members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar for their support in the past four years since the last General Election in the UK.

“Many of these MPs have been supporters of Gibraltar for decades and many, not least the Chair of the APPG, Hon Sir Bob Neil MP, are retiring at this election,” Mr Picardo said.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the current and next UK Government on all matters related to Gibraltar.”

Among other MPs who will not be standing again are Brexiteers on the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons, including its chairman Sir William Cash and Conservative MP David Jones.

The committee recently claimed the treaty under negotiation would put Gibraltar’s sovereignty at risk, something rejected in forceful terms by both the Chief Minister and Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron.

Mr Jones had secured a debate on Gibraltar in early June but the election announcement means that will no longer take place.

And while the Chief Minister has underscored his confidence that any future UK Government would work with Gibraltar to finalise the treaty, a Labour win, as polls suggest, would mean there would be Socialist governments in London, Madrid and Gibraltar, which could help spur the talks to the finish line.

'CLEAR PLAN'

In calling the General Election for July 4, Mr Sunak has gambled that improved inflation figures and a recovering economy will help him overturn Labour’s 20-point opinion poll lead.

In a sign that security and the economy will be key battlegrounds, Mr Sunak said: “This election will take place at time when the world is more dangerous than it has been since the end of the Cold War.”

The “uncertain times” call for a “clear plan”, he said.

A July election is earlier than many in Westminster had expected, with a contest in October or November widely thought to have been more likely.

Mr Sunak’s announcement came after the Office for National Statistics said Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation slowed to 2.3% in April, down from 3.2% in March.

He said that was a “major milestone” for the country, with inflation now “back to normal” levels.

One reason for delaying might have been to allow Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to deliver another tax-cutting financial statement in the lead-up to the vote, but official figures revealed borrowing for April overshot forecasts, hitting £20.5 billion, suggesting he would have had limited scope for pre-election giveaways.

Mr Sunak had to contend with New Labour anthem Things Can Only Get Better being played from beyond the gates to Downing Street.

Speaking from a lectern in the street despite the rain, Mr Sunak said the election would be a question of trust, warning that the British people could not believe any promise made by Sir Keir Starmer.

Mr Sunak said he had restored “hard-earned economic stability”.

“The question now is how and who do you trust to turn that foundation into a secure future for you, your family and our country.”

He added: “On July 5, either Sir Keir Starmer or I will be prime minister. He has shown time and time again that he will take the easy way out and do anything to get power.

“If he was happy to abandon all the promises he made to become Labour leader once he got the job, how can you know that he won’t do exactly the same thing if he were to become prime minister?”

“If you don’t have the conviction, to stick to anything you say, if you don’t have the courage to tell people what you want to do and if you don’t have a plan, how can you possibly be trusted to lead our country, especially at this most uncertain of times?”

But Labour leader Sir Keir said: “If they get another five years they will feel entitled to carry on exactly as they are. Nothing will change.”

He promised a “new spirit of service”, putting the country before party interests.

“I am well aware of the cynicism people hold towards politicians at the moment, but I came into politics late, having served our country as leader of the Crown Prosecution Service, and I helped the Police Service in Northern Ireland to gain the consent of all communities.”

He added service was the “reason, and the only reason why I am standing here now asking for your vote”.

PA contributed reporting for this article.

 

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