Álvaro Nadal, Rachel Haynes and Matthew Woods. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ

Conference tackles Britain and Spain's relationship after Brexit

SUR and SUR in English brought together a range of experts to analyse relations between the two countries in the fields of tourism, trade and education, among others

I. GELIBTER / R. HAYNES MALAGA.

Attracting talent from the UK for technology firms, taking on new teaching staff at British schools in Spain and improving tourism figures. These are different issues affecting different sectors, yet there is a common denominator: they all rely on people moving freely between the UK and Spain. But Britain's exit from the European Union has made that more complicated.

Highlighting these problems and analysing the current situation were among the objectives of last Friday's conference - UK and Spain, Building a Strategic Relationship - organised by SUR and SUR in English and sponsored by Malaga City Hall, the Diputación provincial authority and Turismo Costa del Sol, in collaboration with Linea Directa.

The event, held at the Hotel Barceló in Malaga, brought together expert speakers from diverse industries to shed some light on how the UK's exit from the EU has affected day-to-day relations between the two countries.

Partners

Matthew Woods, Head of the Political Team at the British Embassy in Spain, and Álvaro Nadal, Head of the Economic and Commercial Office at the Spanish Embassy in the UK, were the first to examine the current relationship between their two countries.

Woods said that Spain and the UK have always been strategic partners and that his role is to help the two societies adapt to the new situation. He said that following the UK's exit from the EU the rights of British nationals already resident in Spain, and Spanish nationals in the UK, have been protected.

He stressed, however, that some elements still needed to be resolved as soon as possible, such as the problem of the exchange of UK driving licences for Spanish ones after six months of residence in Spain.

Nadal 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 frameworks and obligations have changed, and this affects issues such as the free movement of people, goods and the provision of services," he said, adding that the movement of people is still the most complicated issue.

"However it is true that the process is still not complete. We started in the first year of Brexit last year and now we're doing a doctorate," he joked.

"Cooperation between both administrations is excellent. Things have gone quite well considering such a radical change," he said.

Trade

Despite the complications posed by Brexit, an optimistic tone was clear from the morning's discussions on trade, technology and tourism. Eduardo Barrachina, president of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the UK; and Miriem Diouri, a member of the Governing Council of the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain; were invited to describe the current scenario faced by firms trading between the two countries.

"Interest in Spain couldn't be better," said Diouri, who did point out, however, that 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 for firms that want to come to Spain, and especially to Malaga.

Barrachina said the relationship between Spanish firms and the UK is very close. "They are still investing," he said. "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.

There were mainly positive ideas coming from the tourism experts discussing the changes for the industry on the Costa del Sol: Manuel Butler, director of the Spanish Tourist Office in London; Pedro Bendala, director of Malaga Airport; and José Luque, president of Aehcos hotels association.

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 - 90 days in 180 - and that they have to have their passports stamped.

"This summer we have done it manually; we haven't had problems thanks to the work of the police," said the airport director who added that there should be an electronic system for border control in place later next year.

José Luque reiterated his approval of the Junta de Andalucía's decision to cancel wealth tax, and criticised PM Pedro Sánchez's government's decision to bring in a tax on large fortunes.

"Fiscal incentives were the right way, but the perspectives for the future are looking good," he added.

Talent-seekers

While tourism is a well-oiled strategic sector on the Costa del Sol, technology is another that is just emerging. Jordi Laguarda, director in International Trade and Development at the British Embassy in Spain; Vicente Padilla, CEO and co-founder of Aertec; and Jesús Manuel Amores, director of Vodafone's Malaga Innovation Hub; discussed the challenges faced by firms setting up in this area.

Laguarda stressed that the framework is not the one we had before, but there's no going back. "Brexit was a turning point, but regulations have to be developed. Even so, I'd like to emphasise a message of optimism," he said.

Padilla, who pointed out that the aeronautical industry is Andalucía's second biggest exporter, brought up the need to attract talented employees from wherever they are, and the difficulties posed.

"For us Brexit has been and is a problem. We're having great difficulty bringing people over," he said.

Meanwhile Amores agreed that the fewer borders there are, the better the available talent.

"Whenever there are changes to the rules, there are winners and losers. My lawyer in the UK is one of the winners," he said ironically, highlighting the need to solve freedom of movement issues.

Education

Adrian Massam, president of Nabss, the National Association of British Schools in Spain, and Alan McDyre, president of Aceia, the Association of Language Teaching Centres in Andalucía, took part in the last roundtable discussion of the morning.

They discussed the complications that the UK's exit from the EU has posed for their education sector. Massam stressed that a British education is still a highly valued option for families in Spain and that the majority of these students are Spanish.

However the sector shares the same challenge as others taking part in the conference, he said: movement between the two countries and the recruitment of teachers. "Not having the UK as a source for teachers is a big problem," he said, pointing out that now it is not impossible to employ teachers in the UK, but much more complicated. "I know cases that have taken six months," said Massam.

The other challenge, he said, was direct access to Spanish universities that students from the British education system have enjoyed until now. This could be maintained through a bilateral agreement that is still being processed, said Massam. Similarly, fees for UK universities for EU students have changed "radically" which could lead to less interest in a British education.

McDyre said that language-teaching centres in Andalucía, which have experienced a growth of around 10 per cent this year, have got round the problem of recruitment in the UK with "fantastic" teachers from Spain and other European countries, "although there is a strong demand for native English speakers", he said.

Another area complicated by Brexit is that of English courses in the UK, said McDyre, as longer stays now require visas and other documents. Logistics and new bureaucratic requirements are also causing problems for examining bodies such as Cambridge and Trinity, he added.