Álvaro Nadal, SUR in English editor Rachel Haynes and Matthew Woods / PHOTO: MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ / VIDEO: PEDRO J. QUERO

Mobility of people between UK and Spain remains an unresolved issue following Brexit, say experts

SUR and SUR in English brought a number of leading professionals together at a conference on the Costa del Sol to analyse the relationship between Spain and the UK in terms of tourism, trade and education

Ivan Gelibter

Last Friday experts gathered at a forum organised by SUR and SUR in English called ‘UK and Spain, building strategic relations’ in Malaga, which looked at ways to attract talent to technology companies, expand teaching staff at British schools in Spain and improve tourism figures, among other issues. These are very different aspects of the relationship between the two nations, but there is a common denominator: they all rely on successful mobility and Brexit has made that more complicated.

Matthew Woods, Head of Political Team at the British Embassy in Spain, said that Spain and the UK have always been strategic partners and that his role is to help the two societies to adapt to the new situation. He recognised that the rights of British nationals resident in Spain have been protected, but said the problem of driving licences still needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

Álvaro Nadal, head of the Economic and Commercial Office at the Spanish Embassy in the UK, explained that Britain is the third most important country for Spain at a commercial level, and that cooperation is very strong. "But we must not forget that with 'Brexit' the frameworks and obligations have changed, and this affects issues such as the free movement of people, goods and the provision of services," he said, remarking that the movement of people is still the most complicated issue.

Trade and tourism

In terms of trade, technology and tourism, the situation was generally deemed positive although Miriem Diouri, member of the Governing Council of the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain, said many British companies are keen to operate in Spain but are finding it difficult. She called on the Spanish government to be more proactive in facilitating the process.

Eduardo Barrachina, the president of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in UK said the relationship between Spanish firms and the UK is very close and “not a single Spanish euro has left the UK because of Brexit”. However, he did say that an agreement on financial services would be helpful and so would more flexibility with regard to migration.

And on the issue of tourism, Manuel Butler, the director of the Spanish Tourist Office in London, Pedro Bendala, managing director of Malaga Airport and José Luque, the president of the Costa's hotel association Aehcos also had positive comments. Butler stressed the importance of remaining committed to the UK despite Brexit having affected tourism, and explained that it is difficult to make projections for the future because most bookings are made not long before travelling.

Bendala said it is a shame that visitors from Britain are now limited in how long they can stay in Spain and that they have to have their passports stamped, but there should be an electronic system in place next year. However, he said next year there should be an electronic system in place when crossing borders. José Luque mentioned that he approved of the Junta de Andalucía’s decision to cancel wealth tax, saying the perspectives for the future are looking good.

Difficulties in attracting talent

Vicente Padilla, CEO and co-founder of Aertec, said Brexit has been and still is a problem in terms of attracting talent o the technology sector, and Jesús Manuel Amores, director of the Vodafone Innovation Centre in Malaga, agreed that the fewer borders there are, the better the available talent.

Adrian Massam, president of theNational Association of British Schools in Spain and Alan McDyre, president of ACEIA - the Association of Language Teaching Centres in Andalucía, praised the quality of British education but both admitted that British teachers are finding it difficult to find employment in this country because of the mobility problems resulting from Brexit.