surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

Toeing the lines

Within the Spanish government there is clearly no official 'line' on Brexit. This became evident on Tuesday, when Rajoy told a press conference organised by the newspaper ABC that Brexit was a "serious threat" to Spain. When asked to elaborate he resorted to that famed Rajoy opacity, elliptically remarking that one in five holidaymakers in Spain is British and that around 17 million Britons visited Spain in 2016. What he means, then, is that Spain's economy is heavily reliant on British tourists and expats and that, after Brexit, it might be more difficult or unappealing for them to holiday or buy property in Spain.

Whether or not that turns out to be true will depend on the tone and content of the two-year conversation that is just beginning. Meanwhile, as I wrote here last week, Spain's economy and industry minister is much more optimistic about post-Brexit Anglo-Spanish relations than his boss. Luis de Guindos says he is sure that a good economic relationship between the UK and Spain can be maintained post-Brexit and that, as the two countries are important to one another, there should be no problems in striking a deal that benefits both. That, surely, is a better candidate for the official government take on Brexit than the prime minister's doom-mongering.

Although Rajoy's anxiety about the impact of Brexit is premature, he is right to worry about Spain's inability to make unilateral economic agreements with a UK outside the EU. And ironically, the impossibility of being able to do so is owed to one of the many flaws of the highly-centralised, undemocratic administration he praises so highly. It's worth remembering, too, that Rajoy is much more committed to the EU than Luis de Guindos, who has always maintained an amusingly defiant attitude towards Brussels.

In one of his most ludicrous announcements to date, Rajoy told the ABC conference in Madrid that "despite all its imperfections, [the EU] is the best political initiative the world has seen in centuries". Really? In two years' time, Rajoy will want to deal with the UK as an autonomous country, not as part of a 27-member bloc run by politicians likely to be indifferent to his economic concerns. But he won't be able to. Maybe only then will he start to see Brexit in a different light - because it was partly to regain such sovereignty that the UK voted to leave the EU.