No amount of smokescreens will cloud the fact that Mr Clinton has embarrassingly put his foot in it over travel arrangements made by Parliamentarians when travelling as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). This situation must also be politically embarrassing for his colleagues too, who now have no choice but to defend him in public, but they are all well aware that exactly the same system has operated for decades and that nothing has changed.
It is a sorry state of affairs that the Opposition should permit Mr Clinton to make an issue in public of what is essentially an administrative matter that could have been easily resolved within the Gibraltar Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Indeed, one Minister did precisely that and made alternative travel arrangements to fly to Belfast on a low-cost airline for one third of the price of Mr Clinton’s own tickets.
Therefore Mr Clinton’s transparent and feeble attempts to get out of the mess that he has created for himself (and for his colleagues) will fool noone.
The truth is that in raising the issue in this way, Mr Clinton has ridden roughshod over the traditional unity that has existed between Government and Opposition when it comes matters involving the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He is singlehandedly responsible for creating division and disunity in a forum where there has always been cooperation and unity between Parliamentary colleagues from both sides of the House. His failure to raise any concerns in private formally to the Executive Committee of the Gibraltar Branch suggests that Mr Clinton is only concerned about himself and in cheap publicity stunts of this nature, with no real understanding or knowledge of the bigger picture.
The policy of the Government is separate to and independent from the policy of the Parliament and of the Gibraltar Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It is a sad reflection of Mr Clinton’s infantile understanding of politics that he had confused the two.
This Government, unlike the previous GSD administration, freely publishes the costs of ministerial travel on its website. Mr Clinton, instead of welcoming this exercise in transparency, chooses instead to divert attention from the mess he has created by pointing the finger elsewhere at Government Ministers.
The Government has made it clear that Ministers can travel on business class on short-haul routes when bookings are made at short notice and there is no other option or when they need to work on the plane with colleagues often with sensitive documents and papers. This was the case particularly for the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister during 2018 and 2019 with the conduct of the negotiations for our departure from the European Union which involved the lobbying of different countries, institutions and organisations in different places, and often included both Brexit and non-Brexit related work. The travel simply reflects the intensity of the schedule and the volume of work involved. Indeed, Dr Garcia’s own travel costs for 2018 are spread over seventeen different journeys and some forty different flights, including long-haul travel outside of Europe. One of those journeys involved flying Gibraltar to London for meetings then from there to New York to address the Fourth Committee of the United Nations, then back to London and from there on to Brussels to join the Chief Minister in the actual Brexit negotiations.
The Government nonetheless is happy that Mr Clinton now agrees to accept the change in travel policy that this Government implemented some time ago.
The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: ‘Whilst it is not surprising that Mr Clinton has jumped to the defensive after the insincerity of his arguments were clearly exposed, the Government is delighted that he and his colleagues have agreed to pay the difference in costs for their overpriced short haul flights. I look forward to the GSD joining the Government’s already established practices of reducing travel costs to the taxpayer as far as reasonably possible in future.’