Simon Manley speaking in Palma on Wednesday.

20-03-2019Humphrey Carter

"Conserve, improve." Two keywords offered by British Ambassador Simon Manley yesterday, who addressed an audience of businesspeople at Palma's CaixaForum.

The ambassador was referring to relationships between the UK and the Balearics and, by extension, to the whole of Spain. While commercial relationships headed the agenda, the ambassador drew attention to the wider links. He stressed, on numerous occasions, the close associations that the UK has with the Balearics, emphasising that moving forward in a post-Brexit scenario, there have to be - there will be - the continuing bonds to protect "the prosperity of businesses, security, the people of both the UK and Spain".

The context of his presentation was obvious enough. The presentation's title - "Britain, Brexit and the Balearics: Challenges, Opportunities" - could not disguise the current uncertainties. Although not specifically detailing the negotiations with the EU and the most recent developments in the British parliament, Manley didn't back away from observing that "we cannot underplay the magnitude of the issue" - that of Brexit. It affects, he continued, "the structure of political and economic relationships". He accepted that while the relationship will remain strong and close, it cannot be completely the same.

The message and the tone were upbeat, nonetheless. They were also forward-looking. "We have to look forward two, five, ten years with a positive relationship. We have to work together in developing the relationship. This is the key and will be the key to overcoming uncertainties."

The ambassador identified the vast amount of British investment in the Balearics as being a cornerstone of the current and future relationship. This is investment both in business and in property and also via tourism. In his view there is "potential to grow"; there are "good opportunities".

On the nitty-gritty of the Brexit deal and withdrawal agreement, Manley asserted that "it is most important to leave in an orderly fashion". The British government, he said, "intends to ratify the deal", and so he intimated that the deal presented to parliament by Theresa May is the one that will prevail. In elaborating this point, he mentioned the extension to the date for leaving the EU - "a short, technical extension until the end of June".

Manley conceded that there is some frustration. The audience at the CaixaForum, one sensed, shared this when he remarked that "we understand the frustrations felt among our European partners". He recognised that this was "because of the parliamentary process". Taking questions on next steps in this process, he was of the opinion that there was "little probability of a second referendum", having expressed a belief in the May deal being ratified.

The ambassador referred to citizens' rights - those of Spanish citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the Balearics and Spain - observing that, where the UK government is concerned, there will be no change whether there is a deal or no deal (and the Spanish government has said much the same thing).

Another question concerned the "failure" (or possibly "disaster", depending on translation) of the UK's relationship with Europe and the reasons for exiting. They were varied, the ambassador noted, and referred to how attitudes towards the EU can differ between member states. For Spain, he highlighted the extent to which the country had modernised with the aid of European funding, mentioning, for instance, airports. In the UK, some may not have perceived these same benefits.

In general terms, while admitting that there are uncertainties, Manley was confident that the long relationship with the Balearics and Spain will endure and will grow. He reiterated the fact that "we are leaving the EU but not Europe". "We share the same values, the same European values of rights, solidarity and liberties."

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