Eighteen months after the UK voted to leave the European Union, the prospect of any clear agreement between the UK government and the Commission in Brussels is becoming a forlorn hope. That is despite the immense efforts which have been expended by officials and politicians on both sides of the negotiating table.
The efforts of Gibraltar’s government have been equally as impressive if one considers the press releases and accompanying photos of the Chief Minister meeting with his counterparts in the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments as well as many other MPs and MEPs over the same period. The objective has been to ensure that Gibraltar’s voice is heard and not forgotten in the Brexit discussions and that Clause 24 of the Commission’s guidelines will remain superfluous to the overall negotiating position of Brussels.
Theresa May has remained true to her word in keeping to the position which she set out at the start of the process, namely, that she would not give a running commentary on the progress of the negotiations with the Commission. Just as well. There hasn’t been much new to say. One of the biggest challenges for UK news editors in the last eighteen months has been keeping the Brexit issue alive and fresh when there has been so little news to report on. Every twist and turn, every machination of a switch in party allegiances, every nuance uttered by a minister has been tracked, analysed and commented on, but in reality we are no further forward. And without progress or at least an indication of the way forward, businesses cannot plan a way ahead. In an economy the size and complexity of the UK this is important. For Gibraltar, it is equally important. Businesses here need to be sure that any decision they make or don’t make on new investment, staff hires or diversification is not wasted or made in error.
In the meantime, businesses continue to operate much as before. Contingency plans are being worked on and fine-tuned for various scenarios but many local businesses are carrying on pretty much as normal. It is somewhat re-assuring that employment figures in Gibraltar continue to grow and inward investment continues to rise, even with the uncertainty of what Brexit may bring.
Nevertheless, the growing intray of issues affecting local business, however small or seemingly insignificant to government, still needs to be addressed. And it is only the government which has the power to address them. Correspondence is written, chased up, officials and ministers are met with and matters are discussed. But resolving the matters never seems to make much progress. The default response on why the government has done this or hasn’t done that seems too often to be: “We have been so preoccupied with Brexit discussions…” or “We’ll have to wait until after Brexit!”. At times it seems that every decision is being held up until Brexit has been decided, whenever that might be.
Brexit is obviously a priority for all our futures and we support the efforts government has made to ensure that Gibraltar’s voice is heard. The package of measures recently announced between the UK and Gibraltar over future access to UK is highly commendable in so far as they go. Nevertheless, the government should not ignore matters which affect people and businesses on the Rock today.
Events are never ideal when in office but the burden of leadership means taking decisions which will give certainty even though the outcome may not always be universally popular. That is why we have elections.
With scant little pressure from the opposition to hold the government to any sort of account, the government has been lulled into a position which has become too comfortable for its own good. Yes, Brexit is important but the government must also address matters which are closer to home.