"Brexit is a political reality but we must reach agreements to minimise the damage"

Simon Manley speaking at the forum.
Simon Manley speaking at the forum. / Salvador Salas
  • The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, spoke at a business forum organised by SUR about a number of Brexit-related issues

Simon Manley, British Ambassador to Spain, reiterated his government’s stance that there was “no going back on Brexit” at a business forum organised by SUR in Malaga.

The forum, which took place at the AC Málaga Palacio hotel last Friday, was led by SUR’s director of publications, Pedro Luis Gómez. It aimed to analyse the implications for the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Costa del Sol, as well as for the tens of thousands of Britons living here, in a post-Brexit world.

The ambassador was introduced by Elías Bendodo, president of the provincial government and Turismo Costa del Sol, who explained that from a tourism point of view, “Brexit has only had a positive effect,” with visitors numbers from Britain increasing.

Bendodo also expressed his desire for a positive outcome from the ongoing negotiations as “the British aren’t foreigners”. He says: “They’re ‘Malagueños’. They make up a large part of Malaga province’s population.”

Speaking in Spanish to an audience of mixed nationalities, the ambassador stressed the British government’s commitment to maintaining strong links with Spain and the rest of the European Union. “With Brexit we are leaving the EU but not Europe. We share the same values and we are still close neighbours,” he said.

Manley pointed out that while the British people voted to leave the European Union, it is still the UK’s wish to “continue working with our European neighbours”.

He added that despite Brexit, the UK wanted the EU to be a “success” and a project that was “strong, prosperous and secure”.

He described Brexit as “a political reality” but stressed the importance of “listen[ing] to both sides in the Brexit negotiations” in order to reach agreements that would “minimise the damage”.

One area which Manley was keen to highlight was a future relationship which was mutually beneficial, especially in terms of the economy: “In these Brexit negotiations we want to avoid any barriers especially in terms of the economy. In the 21st century it is key that we have free trade to have a strong economy and attract investment.”

Movement of people was also a priority, he said, explaining that the ‘settled status’, outlined in a 15-page Home Office document earlier in the week, would “give security and the same rights to EU citizens in the UK”.

He went on to praise the contribution of Spanish people to British society, outlining especially the heroism of Ignacio Echeverría during the recent London Bridge attack, while also pledging the UK’s unwavering support on security matters: “Our values and our resolve, when we work together, are much stronger than those of the terrorists.”

Rights for students

A question and answer session took place after his speech, in which Manley was challenged on the rights of foreign students studying in the UK.

He responded: “We don’t want to close our borders to students. The UK government will continue to support them.”

He also outlined his government’s aspirations to maintain access to the Erasmus programme, reiterating that any deals struck would have to be reciprocal. “We want the UK to continue to attract the most talented people in the world,” he added.

Healthcare post Brexit

British residents’ access to the Spanish health system was another point raised and the ambassador stated that the UK government would be pressing for the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to be maintained, or something similar brought in in its place.

A categorical “no”

Manley, when asked about Gibraltar, categorically declared there would be “no joint sovereignty deal”.

He did, however, agree that free movement across the frontier was crucial: “What impresses me about Gibraltar is its links with the surrounding area. We want to work together with Spain to guarantee the prosperity of Campo de Gibraltar.”

The ambassador concluded his intervention, saying: “We have few allies with whom we have such a strong relationship as we do with Spain. We should celebrate the cultural, personal and historical links between our two countries and make our relationship even stronger.”

The event was also attended by Mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre; Partido Popular MP, Carolina España; British Consul for Andalucía, Charmaine Arbouin; and Vice-Consul Rosslyn Crotty; Director General of Prensa Malagueña, José Luis Romero; and Deputy Editor of SUR, Javier Recio, among other authorities, officials and members of the international community.