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Spanish Royal visit to UK seeks to show the way after Brexit

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The Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Letizia, Queen Elizabeth II and King Felipe VI before the State Banquet. / EFE

  • King Felipe and Queen Letizia mixed ceremony, business and culture in trip aimed to strengthen relationships

With its mix of pomp, glamour, declarations of friendship and mention of some thorny issues, the three-day State visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia to London has been captivating attention across both Spain and Britain this week.

Following a day largely of pageantry and tradition on Wednesday, on Thursday it was down to business, literally, with a marked focus in the day’s agenda on the economic links between the two countries and the possible affects of Brexit.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting entitled ‘UK Spain- Business Forum’ at the City of London’s Mansion House, King Felipe told attendees that Spain and Britain had to work together to reduce any negative effects of Brexit.

In front of some two hundred business leaders, the king said it was “extremely important” that the new framework after Brexit guarantees conditions for a close economic and commercial partnership that minimises obstacles and barriers.

After highlighting that the strong presence of Spanish companies in the UK has increased significantly in recent years, the monarch thanked the British business community for the confidence they have shown in Spain at a time when both countries are facing “important challenges”.

He went on to warn that Brexit had “created uncertainty” for Spanish companies, especially small to medium-sized ones, which had to be reduced to a minimum in the negotiations and that a common commitment to open markets and investment had “to continue”.

Spanish big business in the UK

Felipe reminded his audience that the UKis Spain’s third biggest export market and top destination for its overseas investment, with many large Spanish companies. These companies include Aena, Santander, FCC, Iberdrola, Banc Sabadell, Inditex and Telefónica who operate in Britain on a large scale.

Later King Felipe went on to meet British Prime Minister, Theresa May at Downing Street. In a statement, May said on Thursday that the UKwas committed to the relationship with Spain and that she looked forward to seeing the partnership “go from strength to strength” in the years ahead. The Downing Street statement went on to say that “there are over 300,000 Britons living in Spain, while over 130,000 Spaniards have made the UK their home”, adding that the prime minister would highlight “the valuable contribution that Spanish citizens make to Britain’s economy and society” in her meeting with King Felipe.

On Thursday night, the king and queen were due to attend a banquet at the Guildhall in the capital’s financial district, hosted by the Lord Mayor of London.

The State Visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is the their first official visit to the UK and the first Spanish State visit since 1986, when the king’s father and mother, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, were welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Postponed twice

The three packed days had to be postponed twice; once last year, when it wasn’t clear who would form a government in Spain after a rerun of general elections, and once again when Theresa May called a British general election in June this year.

The visit had been long awaited as a way to strengthen ties between the countries in the light of Brexit, but there was nervousness over whether the king would raise the subject of Gibraltar, which Spain lays claim to.

After their arrival in the British capital in heavy rain on Tuesday night, the skies cleared in time for the first official day of engagements on Wednesday, which was laden with ceremony and pageant. Beginning with a welcome by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on Horse Guard’s Parade for the Spanish monarchs, leading on to an address to both Houses of Parliament and finishing with a State Banquet for 150 guests at Buckingham Palace.

Kind Felipe, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are distant relatives through the children of Queen Victoria and the links between the two crowns were evident at different times during the stay.

Royal family album

Queen Elizabeth made King Felipe a member of the Orderof the Garter and entertained the visiting couple with an exhibition from the Royal Collection of Spanish artefacts, including wedding photographs of King Felipe’s great-grandmother. The Spanish king and queen stayed at Buckingham Palace for two nights, having spent the first night ahead of the visit in a hotel off the Strand.

As well as Wednesday’s focus on business, the couple also joined Prince Harry at Westminster Abbey to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and tour the building.

The final day of the Royals’ visit on Friday is planned to focus ion on culture, including a visit to Oxford, before Felipe and Letizia fly back to Spain in the afternoon.