Let's not fight

At a conference organised by El País and Sabadell Bank on Monday, post-Brexit relations between Spain and the UK were discussed by a panel from Spanish media, business and politics. Spain, said some of these experts, can't afford to display hostility towards the UK in the forthcoming negotiations. They pointed to the economic and cultural ties that exist between the two countries and argued that these need to be preserved, for the benefit of both parties, after the UK quits the bloc.

Such optimistic remarks will be warmly received by many Britons living in Spain. Due in part to Theresa May's refusal to lock down the rights of EU citizens living in the UK before Article 50 is triggered, anxiety among British expatriates living abroad is reaching a critical point. That various media outlets are whipping up a storm of dread around Brexit doesn't help, but sadly they have ample room in which to spin and speculate: almost nine months after the referendum, virtually nothing is known for sure about the kind of negotiations that will ensue once Article 50 is triggered.

Although there is still only a black hole where Brexit plans should be, some of the panel were right to say that there is no reason why negotiations between the UK and Spain should be fraught or antagonistic. As Jaime Guardiola, CEO of Sabadell Bank - which is a medium-weight player in the UK's financial services industry - said, a punitive approach "could put both parties' [economic] growth at risk".

The statistics that suggest he's right have been widely quoted recently. About half a million Britons are resident in Spain and around double that number own property here. It has been estimated that in 2016 one in five of every tourists to visit Spain was a Briton. The UK is the biggest recipient of Spain's foreign investment, receiving 17% of the total amount annually, and around 300,000 Spaniards currently live in the UK. Clearly, the two countries are important to each other.

Guardiola's optimism was not shared by everyone on the panel, with some saying that Spaniards whose lives are made difficult in the UK after Brexit might have to be enticed back home. But Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and his economy minister, Luis de Guindos, apparently have the same outlook. Both have recently been at pains to make clear that they want a smooth Brexit that doesn't harm relations between UK and Spain.

All very agreeable and optimistic - but will it actually work out this way? A report written by the EU parliament's internal affairs committee and leaked last month by the Guardian newspaper suggested that UK citizens in EU countries might face difficulties post-Brexit. And Theresa May's refusal to secure the future of of EU citizens living in the UK before negotiations start has further complicated diplomacy with Brussels. But hopefully, it will be the optimists who are vindicated about post-Brexit Spanish-British relations, not those who predict a bitter separation which harms both countries.