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The Euro Zone

Prepared for the worst

The Spanish government's new Brexit initiative is welcome news, and might be the most valuable thing Sánchez does during what is likely to be a short term in power

Mark Nayler

Friday, 28 December 2018, 12:28

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As we prepare to enter the "Year of Brexit", it was heartening to hear this week that the Spanish government are being proactive in this respect. Anticipating the worst possible scenario come March 30th - namely, that the UK leaves the EU without an agreed deal on its withdrawal terms - Pedro Sánchez's administration is working on measures to protect the rights of British citizens living in Spain and Spaniards based in the UK. Appallingly, two and a half years after the Brexit referendum, this is still an issue surrounded by vagueness and confusion.

Sources close to Sánchez's plans, which are due to be unveiled next month, have told El País newspaper that foreign citizens' rights is the subject on which Madrid and London are in most agreement. Around 300,000 British people live in Spain and approximately 116,000 Spaniards have made the UK their home, so it's in both governments' interests to ensure a smooth transition for these groups. Especially if, as seems increasingly likely, there is no agreed Brexit deal by March 30th.

As a qualification of optimism, it should be noted that public confidence in politicians' ability to negotiate Brexit has drastically decreased since the 2016 referendum. Words by themselves are no longer enough to reassure or convince. Yet the Spanish government's new Brexit initiative is welcome news, and might be the most valuable thing Sánchez does during what is likely to be a short term in power.

UK prime minister Theresa May, on the other hand, has been consistently disappointing as regards Britain's withdrawal from the EU. Cast your mind back to beginning of December, when Simon Manley, the UK's Ambassador to Spain, sent out an open letter designed to assure British residents living over here. Published in SUR in English on December 7th, the letter cited the Withdrawal Agreement due to be voted on in UK parliament on December 11th: if approved, said Manley, the deal would mean "that the 300,000 British people who have chosen to make Spain their home have a legal guarantee that they will be allowed to stay here after the UK leaves the EU". This deal also specified an "Implementation Period", running from March 30th 2019 to December 31st 2020, during which things would essentially remain the same as they are now.

Never one to live up to expectations, though, May cancelled the December 11th vote, fearing a backlash from opposing MPs. The "meaningful vote", to give its cringey new nickname, is now tabled for mid-January, although whether it will actually happen then is anyone's guess. But as May dithers, at least Sánchez is preparing for the worst possible scenario come March 30th - a fact which should provide a little reassurance to British people in Spain and Spaniards in the UK.

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