The British Embassy in Madrid has officially rejected press reports that claim the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is drawing up plans to evacuate British expatriates from Spain in the event that the Spanish banking system collapses.
“All British Embassies regularly update contingency planning for all sorts of scenarios, including natural disasters and internal political unrest.
“There is no Spain (or Portugal) contingency plan for a euro-based evacuation, nor do we have any intention of preparing one. It is fanciful to imagine that a major evacuation of British nationals would either be necessary or feasible,” a British Embassy spokesman said on Monday afternoon.
The comments are in response to a front page story in last weekend’s Sunday Times. Under the headline ‘Whitehall plans euro-evacuation’, the newspaper alleged that “Officials from the Foreign Office and the Treasury are preparing to help thousands of Britons get home if banks in Spain and Portugal fail and people are unable to get at their money.”
The story went viral within hours. “A financial Dunkirk: Britain draws up plans to rescue expats” was the MailOnline’s attention-grabbing leader.
The Sunday Times’ article used the downgrading of several Spanish banks’ credit rating as a basis for its claims. The report said: “The Foreign Office is concerned that expats who have invested savings in their adopted countries could be left stranded, unable to withdraw cash and facing losing their homes if the banks call in loans.”
The story continued: “Foreign Office sources said it was planning for a ‘nightmare scenario’ with thousands of penniless Britons sleeping at airports with no money and no means of getting home. Last week Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded 10 Spanish banks and warned it could lower their credit worthiness scores even further.”
The paper added that plans being discussed included “sending planes, ships and coaches to evacuate expats. The Foreign Office is also looking at giving small loans to stranded Britons.”
The Sunday Times says the information came from a “senior Foreign Office source” but when asked by SUR in English to elaborate further, the editorial team failed to respond.
The articles triggered a flurry of comments on the newspapers’ message boards.
Paulo in Portugal wrote in the MailOnline’s opinion section: “The notion is just plain silly and is clearly a part of a strategy by the euro-sceptic UK Government to paint the continent as being in a crisis bigger than its own. The forecast of hordes of British refugees huddling at airports to escape limited access to banks could only be thought of by the people who brought us Monty Python's Flying Circus.”
One Daily Telegraph reader wrote: “This is speculative, not investigative, journalism.”
It is a view shared by euro economist Megan Greene. She tells SUR in English: “The measures that the UK government are allegedly considering sound very dramatic. If these countries do undergo a hard default, then capital controls will almost certainly be imposed. Evacuating British citizens will do little to address this.”
While the consensus seems to be that the story is “scaremongering”, some expats are taking a more cautious approach, with one Telegraph reader posting: “Might draw most of my money out of the bank and put it under the mattress! Just in case...”