Everything’s changed, but what’s different?

A shopper crosses Oxford Street, the commercial heart of London.
A shopper crosses Oxford Street, the commercial heart of London. / Reuters
  • brexit

  • The pound may have fallen, but have Spaniards seen any difference visiting or living in the UK?

Tens of thousands of Spanish people will be visiting London over the December holiday period. According to London &Partners, an official tourism promotion agency, in 2015 there were 1.5 million visitors from Spain, which was the fifth largest source market. In the past decade, the number of Spanish visitors to the UK has risen by 62.5 per cent.

There are no official figures about the ‘Brexit effect’, but HotelsCombined, an internet hotel website, has registered 15 per cent more hits in Spain compared with last year. The fall in the pound is also making a visit to the UK cheaper now: a trip on the London Eye cost 32.44 euros in June, but is now 27.69. A seat in row K to see the musical ‘The Lion King’ was 197.86 euros, but is now 168.94.

To see what Spanish visitors to London think about Brexit, we took a walk between Big Ben and Harrods department store. We didn’t have to wait long before we heard Spanish voices below the UK’s most famous clock tower. They were from Valladolid: two ladies, Natalia and Belinda Plaza, were visiting their niece, Beatriz Sancho, who has been living with her partner in London for a year.

“I think the only difference is the exchange rate between euros and pounds, because Sterling is lower now, but apart from that nothing seems to have changed since we were here a few years ago,” says Natalia.

Beatriz echoes the feelings of many young people: “I have been working and studying towards a good future since I was 16, and Spain can’t offer me that. Here, ever since the first day, they have appreciated my experience, and the languages I speak. We have worked hard and saved as much as we could and now we have opened a shop selling beauty products for men,” she says.

What about Brexit? “We haven’t noticed any change. We’re not worried, about our work or the economy. What you see on the news and read in the papers isn’t reflected by what is happening in the street,” says Beatriz.

Natalia believes the changes will be noticed most among the wealthy, companies and banks. “We have been here on holiday for two days now, and we still haven’t bought anything,” she says.

“No,” says Belinda, “but then everything is really expensive here, especially public transport.”

On the corner of the street there is a Parliament shop, which sells official documents, books, crystal glasses and mugs with pictures of famous buildings. The assistant tells us she doesn’t think sales have increased since the EU referendum.

Going up through Whitehall we come to Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery is situated. Outside, we find a Spanish couple who have come to visit their daughter, who works in London. María Cristina Fernandes, a teacher, and her engineer husband Manuel Campos, like the museums and art galleries, and the fact that they are free.

They have only just arrived and they have noticed the weaker pound, but they have always believed London to be a very expensive city. Regarding Brexit, so far they haven’t noticed any difference and say it is a case of waiting to see what happens. Manuel says that, in any case, “the economy here is solid.”

Within a few minutes we have arrived at Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, with Hamleys, the oldest, biggest and best-known toy shop in the world. María Medrano is there with her grand-daughter, her husband and her daughter, who lives in London.

“I haven’t noticed anything different. We don’t normally go shopping. We sometimes eat out at a pub, and that’s the only place that we have seen a difference in the money,” she says about Brexit.

Four friends, also fromValladolid, come strolling down Oxford Street. They prefer not to give their names, but say they are happy that the value of the pound has dropped after the EU referendum because their money goes further. Did they plan their visit because of that? “No, no,” says one. “We booked this last year.” Do they think the British are crazy to have voted for Brexit?

“It would seem harsh for me to say that, and it would probably upset people, but I do think they should have stayed in the EU. However, they voted freely about what they want in the future, and I wish them all the best, really.”

Fears for the future

Turning a corner we arrive in luxurious Mayfair, and head for the world-famous Harrods department store, where we spot a Spanish couple looking in one of the windows.

Desiré Rojas and Manuel Soriano have been living in Manchester for two and a half years and decided to take a trip to London as a sort of farewell to the UK, because they are thinking of returning to Spain. For them, Brexit is already having a negative effect. When they visit their families in Malaga, they receive fewer euros for their pounds, and they are afraid of what will happen in the next year.

Why are they afraid? “We think they might send us home,” says Desiré. “They shouldn’t, because we have work contracts, but even so, you never know,” says Manuel.

They are also worried about what would happen if after six months or a year back in Spain they can’t find work and want to go back to the UK. They have loved their time in Manchester. “It has been fantastic. We have jobs, we live in the city centre, and we have been able to travel around,” says Desiré.

Like London, Manchester voted to remain in the UK. Have this couple experienced any difficulties because they are immigrants? “No, not personally,” says Manuel, who works in a café. “I have heard of a few isolated cases, but we haven’t been treated any differently.”

“On the contrary,” stresses Desiré, who works in a fashion shop. “If you tell people you’re from Spain, and from Malaga, they ask you why on earth you want to be in the UK!”