The Government cannot understand why the Opposition persist in raising non-issues and trying to deceive the public almost every time that they issue a statement.
Firstly, the decision of who to send to party conferences or to the United Nations is a policy decision for the Government of the day – it is simply not a matter for this or any Opposition to determine or dictate.
Secondly, the GSD’s allegation that it is ‘unprecedented’ for the Government to rent a building for a social purpose or education is a blatant lie by the GSD and Mr Azopardi. This obvious lie is what all their future statements should be judged against.
It is also obvious that the Opposition are now criticising absolutely everything that the Government do or do not do. The Government cannot win, whatever it does. If we save costs by not attending an event, then we are criticised by one Member of the Opposition. Conversely, if we spend money by attending, then we are criticised by another Member of the Opposition as well. The whole situation is patently absurd and a demonstration that the GSD have fallen into the trap of ‘opposition for the sake of opposition’ and are failing Keith Azopardi’s own mantra of being constructive.
There is also more than a tinge of political hypocrisy with the Opposition’s latest statement. They complain that the Government have not sent a Minister to the United Nations, yet when they were in Government they questioned the value of Gibraltar’s participation at the United Nations, took the view that it was not necessary for Gibraltar to attend the United Nations Committee of 24 at all and then stopped going completely to the June session. This is clearly a case of do as I say and not as I do. This is a key area of policy, going to the fundamentals on decolonisation, on which the GSD have completely changed their tune from night to day and this must be something the public are reminded off. It shows that the GSD is failing to be consistent on a basic issue on the international challenges that Gibraltar faces.
Moreover, the reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated international travel to the degree that it was necessary for the Chief Minister to apply for a diplomatic work visa in order to enter the United States, something which has not previously been the case. This process was set in motion and it took some time, requiring the assistance, which was immediately forthcoming, of the Foreign Office in London and Gibraltar and the United States Embassy in London. The Chief Minister then tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday afternoon and was unable to travel – it was not possible for anyone else to apply in the time remaining. The second reason is that a number of Ministers were deemed to be close contacts of the Chief Minister and advised to wear masks, reduce social contacts and avoid groups of people for ten days – this meant that they too were unable to fly. In the past, the Deputy Chief Minister has represented Gibraltar at the United Nations two times but sadly he was one of the ones deemed to be a close contact. Sir Joe Bossano, who continues to represent Gibraltar at the seminars organised by the Committee of 24 (as recently as in August this year), was also a close contact of the Chief Minister. In any event, it would not have been possible for any of them to arrange the diplomatic work visa in the time available.
At the Conservative Party Conference, security arrangements prevent delegates from being accredited at the last minute. That conference includes the attendance of the whole UK Cabinet and security clearance could also not be organised in time. Additionally, all other OTs are traditionally represented by the UK representatives, not Ministers. The Chief Minister was in direct personal contact with the Prime Minister to explain his inability to attend. No offence was taken by anyone and the Opposition are foolish to pretend the opposite was in anyway true.
The Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo, said: “The GSD Opposition has once again shot from the hip just to try to damage the Government. In addition, the Government has full confidence in our representative in London Dominique Searle and our representative in the United States David Guerrero-Liston to stand in and do the job when it is exceptionally required of them – and they both delivered magnificently. I want to thank them both for stepping up for Gibraltar at my request given we were unable to send Ministerial representation to those events. The plain truth is that none of these things are political issues to merit the attitude that the Opposition have taken in public. The fact that they made no attempt to contact the Government to find out the reasoning suggests that their interest lay purely in scoring political points. They have once again ended up with egg on their faces. Keith Azopardi is running an opposition strategy based on lies that he hopes will persuade the public to lose faith in the government. The public will see through it. The public know it was the GSD who stopped attending the June sessions of the Committee of 24 and that the GSLP and Liberals continued attending, paying from our own pockets, to defend Gibraltar. The public know that it was Keith Azopardi and the GSD who rented St Bernard’s Hospital and the old Primary Care Centre at the ICC. On the hospital alone we sold the building to RBS for £54m and have ALREADY paid £84m in rent – a REALLY TIDY PROFIT for the bankers, which Roy Clinton does not seem so concerned about! The public know it was the GSD that continued the rental arrangements put in place years before to rent the old St Mary’s / Sacred Heart School from the Catholic Church. The public therefore know that the GSD, Roy Clinton and Mr Azopardi are therefore lying when they now say that renting a school is ‘unprecedented’ or that they believe it is imperative to send a Minister to the United Nations in New York. I am very confident that the public in Gibraltar are clever and perceptive and they see through the lies that Mr Azopardi, Mr Clinton and the GSD are peddling. I will not fail to point out every one of the GSD’s lies and Mr Azopardi’s lies so that his Trump-style ‘post-truth’ politics never becomes a reality in Gibraltar.’