The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, admitted to the Bulletin that he agreed with the former prime minister, David Cameron, that the United Kingdom would be stronger in the European Union than out. He was quick, though, to underline the fact that the government has a democratic obligation to respect the wishes of the people, that 33 million participated in the referendum and that it now has to draw up road map for Brexit.
"We are a big country with a big democracy and a big future and now we have to decide what kind of future we want outside of the European Union."
For many Britons resident in Spain and other EU states, what the future holds is causing some concern. As the Bulletin reported yesterday, the ambassador has welcomed the various associations and groups which have been set up to defend the rights of British residents. These are providing vital information about what British residents are concerned with, which can be fed to the British government and taken into account during the process of deciding the future of the UK outside of the EU.
"Health care is a main worry and there are two main worries. Firstly, people want to know that they will still have access to medical care once the UK has left the EU. Secondly, what are the alternatives? At the moment, free health care in Spain for registered British residents is part of an EU regulation and the costs are either covered by the British government in a reciprocal agreement or by some 200 million euros raised by the EU health card. That is all controlled by an EU framework, so that is obviously something we are going to have to address and decide whether we want to continue with a European-wide system or negotiate bilateral agreements with individual countries.
"That said, in the meantime I would recommend all Britons living permanently in Spain to register with their local town hall and make sure they are entitled to all the corresponding state services because, sooner or later, they are going to require some kind of help. Especially older people who may need social assistance. But thanks to the great consular team we have here in Spain, we are doing our best to keep people informed of all developments via our various digital platforms. We are also here to try and answer any questions or ease any fears.
"However, Brexit has not been triggered by the British government yet and then we have a period of two years to negotiate our future relations with EU states. I am convinced that when it comes to Spain our relationship will only get stronger. This will give us an opportunity to sit down and talk about issues which affect both Britons in Spain and Spaniards in the UK and get a much better deal for both sides.
"We are embarking on a complex process, we are entering uncharted waters, but we need to all work together to come up with practical solutions, and Spain and the UK have extremely close ties. Apart from the UK being Spain’s largest tourism market, both countries have important economic ties. Investment is continuing to flow in both directions and we are working hard to make sure that we continue doing business together."
"Creating sustainable growth is a priority for both the UK and Spain. I’m delighted that some 400 Spanish companies are registered in the UK and that investors such as Santander, Telefónica, Iberdrola and Ferrovial have made Spain our sixth largest inward investor. There is no reason why that will not continue."
The consular service is not only there to look after the welfare of residents but also the 13 million plus British visitors who come to Spain every year. "With regard to the Balearics, in particular Majorca and Magalluf, I am pleased they appear calmer this summer. Majorca is in the hearts of the British public. It has been and will be for generations. It’s a safe, quality destination which is doing it’s very best to improve the standards even further. And I am pleased that the number of serious cases has fallen this year. I thank the police and the local authorities for the efforts they have made to ensure that people have a great and safe time while on holiday. But we’re still not entirely satisfied, so there is still work to be done with the cooperation of the security and medical services and the local authorities. It’s just simple things we are trying to get across to people: behave, act safely, drink responsibly and look out for and look after each other.
"We are also looking at how we and the local authorities can tackle bars and hotels which encourage clients to drink excessively and to behave badly. But the biggest problem is passport losses. With over 21,000 British passports lost or stolen last year, including 5,172 in Spain, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is urging British nationals abroad to be #PassportAware and keep their passports safe in order to avoid extra costs and troubles which may spoil their holidays. Again, with the help of the local authorities across Spain, we are working on trying to locate places where people are most vulnerable in having their passports stolen. All these kinds of things are going to continue being challenges whether we are in the EU or not."
Again this week there have been reports of Spain, in particular the popular holiday resorts, being targets for Daesh. The ambassador previously served as the FCO’s director of defence and strategic threats leading the government’s international counter-terrorist, counter-proliferation and counter-narcotics efforts as head of counter-terrorism Police. He has every confidence in the action being taken by the Spanish security forces and intelligence services and is not overly concerned.
"The Guardia Civil and the Spanish law enforcement agencies are doing an incredible job. Just like the UK, Spain has had to confront domestic and international jihadist terrorism, but the quality of Spanish law enforcement and intelligence is absolutely first class. Obviously there is no 100 per cent guarantee against the threat Daesh poses, but I am extremely proud of the level of cooperation the British intelligence services have with their Spanish counterparts."
"In the meantime, there is no great cause for Britons living in Spain to be nervous about what the outcome of Brexit is going to be. I can understand that there is uncertainty. We have very good relationships with all the regional authorities and of course central government, and that will not change. Like I said, in five to ten years time, these relationships will be even stronger. But it is up to the UK to decide want it wants from Europe and how it intends to continue working with Europe while also opening itself up to a more global market in the best interests of everyone."