“I believe we are close to an agreement over the status of European citizens in the UK”

Simon Manley reading the Financial Times during his visit to Bilbao.
Simon Manley reading the Financial Times during his visit to Bilbao. / Manu Cecilio
  • Simon Manley, British Ambassador to Spain, The diplomat is confident there will be a Brexit to suit both sides and says the present uncertainty among citizens and companies needs to be resolved

The British ambassador, Simon Manley, who was in Bilbao this week to support an event with young designers from his country, has long experience in politics. Before being assigned to Spain in 2013 he headed anti-terrorism policy in the UK and was Director of Defence and Strategic Threats. In 2011 he was asked to manage the Foreign Office policies regarding Europe.

Is weak leadership by prime minister Theresa May complicating the UK's negotiations for a successful Brexit?

Our ministers are working together. There is not much time left, for us or for our European partners. In many aspects we can't agree on the exit without knowing what the future relationship will be or, at least, the regulations regarding the transition period after the UK leaves in 2019.

The five principal business organisations in Britain are insisting that the transition be agreed as soon as possible.

I understand not only their interest, but also that of all the European companies. Trade has to be facilitated in a globalised world, with international supply chains.

People say the City is an ecosystem which will not collapse, but can it be damaged?

The City is a global financial centre. An ecosystem consolidated by British commercial law, the transport infrastructure and the quality of education in London.

With regard to the future status of Europeans in the United Kingdom and vice versa, are the parties ever going to agree on this?

I believe we are very close to an agreement. There are aspects which are technically difficult, but both sides are willing. It is a priority, because we need to resolve the uncertainty this situation creates.

“We won't talk sovereignty, we'll talk about practical things,” you have said about Gibraltar.

The rights of workers who live in Spain need to be ensured. Gibraltar has an economy which is growing a great deal and can boost the economy in that part of Spain.

Your time heading British relations with Europe coincided with the greatest tension between Spain and Gibraltar since the border was closed in 1969.

I was defending the interests of my government, working with Gibraltar and the Spanish government in search of common benefit.

A few months ago you were recommending Catalonia as a place to invest.

Catalonia has been a very important region for British investment and vice versa. However, uncertainty benefits nobody.

Respect for the Constitution

In the British parliament a discussion group was set up about Catalonia and the Spanish Embassy wasn't happy about it.

What is important is the position of the British government, which is in favour of the Constitution. Spain is a major ally and we want it to remain united.

From your anti-terrorism experience, what is the situation after the end of the caliphate of Islamic State?

The threat remains. We need to work on prevention, and explain the reality of Islam as a peaceful religion.

Do the hundreds of British people, among other Europeans, who are enrolled in Islamic State, reflect failures in models of integration?

In a way, but we should be proud of our liberal and multicultural societies. The jihadis want to put a stop to them. We should work with our young people, especially Muslims, so they feel they have the same opportunities as anyone else.

You have warned that the fightagainst terrorism could put fundamental values at risk.

We have to defend our liberties, the rule of law, but guarantee security with difficult decisions. When I was the head of the anti-terrorism fight, I had to walk that delicate line with practically every decision I made.

When in 2009 two judges complained to the Foreign Office about the complicity of the UK in the torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed by the CIA, you said that national security should prevail.

I warned that the spreading of information about the CIA could compromise the relationship with MI5 or MI6. The exchanges of information, which are key to combating jihadism, depend on the security of information. From what he has said, the case of Mohamed was terrible. However, Mr Mohamed and the British government settled the matter out of court.