Updated | Malta will not lure companies away from Britain – Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says Malta does not view the UK as an enemy to be exploited after the Brexit vote, says best results would be obtained through friendship and cooperation with the UK • Muscat blasts Simon Busuttil for berating Malta

Malta was not looking for the “spoils of war” following the Brexit vote, but would offer assistance to the UK and to companies interested in using the country as a gateway to the European Union, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said today.

Addressing party faithful at Birkirkara, the prime minister once again underlined that Malta was prepared for UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and was well-placed to react to what happened in the UK.

Ever since the surprising decision by UK voters, a number of European financial services capitals, including Luxembourg, Paris, and Frankfurt have been actively ‘propositioning’ UK-financial services institutions in a bid to lure them away from London amid the uncertainty following the Brexit vote.

Defending Malta’s apparent lackadaisical reaction to the result – which could see it lose out to a number of European capitals that have are promoting themselves to poach investment – the prime minister insisted that Malta does not view the UK as an enemy to be exploited.

“The best results would be obtained through friendship and offering to work together with the UK … those who are going to fight for investments by stealing companies away from the UK would find short shrift in their methods.”

“While others may try to knock down the door into the UK, we want that door to be opened for us because of our behaviour,” Muscat said.

Malta had immediately provided a voice of caution even within the EU, and called for Britain to be given enough breathing space to get its house in order before pursuing exit negotiations, he explained.

The prime minister – who in the wake of the vote ruled out any Maltese referendum on leaving the EU on the basis that it would be tantamount to “suicide” – argued that though he did not agree with the UK’s decision to leave the EU, he understood why people would voted in favour of Brexit.

“I can understand why a man living in a housing estate in the UK would vote against the EU when he suddenly finds himself the only Englishman in his neighbourhood,” he said, while denouncing as “shallow” those who blamed Brexit on the elderly, poor and uneducated in Britain.

“Unless the EU understands that immigration is an issue that is close to the heart of many people and countries, more EU citizens will be turning to extreme groups and parties in greater numbers in the future,” he said.

The Prime Minister also said he sympathises with Birzebbugia and Marsa residents who frequently express concern at the number of refugees in their localities, and argued that whoever discusses migration should not be accused of being xenophobic, racist or far right.

Muscat said the EU should not have anything to do with leaders of extreme parties, but should engage in discussion those people who turn to such parties in a bid to protest against the union.

“The EU cannot remain a union of a few elite that forgets and ignores those with a humble background, dismisses pensioners or makes the young feel totally ignored,” he stressed.

Stop berating Malta – Joseph Muscat tells Simon Busuttil

Taking a swipe at Simon Busuttil – who on Saturday compared the prime minister to UKIP leader Nigel Farage – Muscat said that he would not follow suit, arguing that he did not wish for anyone to be compared to the PN leader.

Reacting to the Opposition leader’s extension of the party’s hand of cooperation in the wake of Britain’s departure from the EU, the prime minister argued that if Busuttil wants to help Malta, he should stop speaking against the country.

“We we will gladly accept this hand of friendship as long as the opposition stops berating our country,” Muscat said.

However, in a statement, the Nationalist Party insisted that its criticism of Joseph Muscat for the good of the country as “the government had tarnished Malta’s reputation after a series of corruption scandals.”

It said that Keith Schembri, the OPM’s chief of staff, and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi had tarnished the country’s reputation after both admitted to opening offshore companies in Panama.

“The Nationalist Party worked in favour of Malta’s reputation, but in just three years, Muscat tarnished this reputation after a series of corruption scandals. A reputation is tarnished by corruption, and not by those fighting corruption,” the Nationalist Party said.

Earlier, the prime minister also criticised the Opposition for coming out against Martin Scicluna, chairman of the National Commissioner for Further and Higher Education, after the regulatory body this week issued a university licence to Sadeen’s ‘American University of Malta’.

“The Opposition was silent when Scicluna agreed with it on certain issues and was now attacking him simply because this decision was not the one they wanted. This further highlights how much the opposition leader was part of the political elite that was detached from the public,” Muscat said.

Welcoming the Planning Authority’s decision to reject the application for the Hondoq ir-Rummien project development, the prime minister said more than 10,000 square metres of agricultural land had been safeguarded thanks to decisions taken by the PA.

Drawing an analogy with the European football championships, Muscat said that while Malta had not qualified for the competition, it had made it to the finals in the fight against unemployment and its rate was the second lowest in the EU, beating Germany in the process.

“It was a great honour that figures published this week showed that we had even surpassed Germany,” he said.

He said unemployment rates were the lowest in 40 years and youth unemployment was the lowest in the EU.

Accusing the Nationalist Party of not understanding the daily struggles faced by people, the Prime Minister explained that the government was keeping the individual at the centre of its policies, and that it would not form part of a political elite that ignored the people it serves.

He explained that petrol and diesel prices would remain stable until September, and electricity bills would remain 25% cheaper.

“Our economy is strong and getting stronger, and wages are rising, but we understand there are people facing poverty or are on the brink of poverty and we will continue to tackle these issues even in the next budget,” he added.

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