The Spanish-British axis
It is time to get around the negative reading of ‘Brexit’ and strengthen ties between the two countries
Published by León Fernando del Canto in El Pais on October 8th 2016
The Brexit has been a major blow to the dream of building an European Union, which, in truth, we do not know how will end up yet. Let’s face it, the United Kingdom has never felt comfortable in the tight grip of the European corset and Spain needs more wood for its timid locomotive of growth, still without a driver, in a Union that perhaps would have needed negotiation and adjustment mechanisms to incorporate countries with different speeds and integration needs. It is precisely at this historic crossroad when both nations are most needed.
Neither May’s statements to impede the free movement of people, nor those of Margallo on putting the flag in Gibraltar show the forward looking quality that this specific moment of the Spanish-British relations requires. There is no economic growth possible by erecting walls in one’s own territory, nor by planting flags in the territories of others.
We are neither the best neighbors nor the worst enemies, but in geopolitical terms, together with Portugal and the Netherlands we represent the north-south axis of the Atlantic spectrum. The Spanish-British axis is the backbone of Africa, Europe and the Americas. But this strategic reading is not new. British Airways and Iberia, Telefónica and O2, Iberdrola and Scottish Power, Santander and Abbey National and even Sabadell and TSB have already done so with great success and a lot of vision for the future.
Spain and the United Kingdom share a convulsive history that had a turning point in the Utrecht treaties of 1713, which underpinned the international leadership of the United Kingdom. Two centuries had to pass to leave behind the Perfidious Albion and give way to a new era of understanding. The European Union brought them closer and its closure opens the challenge of writing a new chapter in the relations between the two countries.
It is time to get around the negative reading of ‘Brexit’ and strengthen ties between both countries.
The United Kingdom, that benefited from its relations with North America, the Middle East and Asia, presents itself as an important ally for a Spain that needs to consolidate its fragile economic recovery and restore its deteriorating international influence, reinforcing its ties with Latin America and with The Mediterranean arc. And the thing is that both countries complement each other perfectly in the new global board. They know each other, already have an alliance as a trade and financial balance and can achieve more together than apart. We must overcome the exclusively negative reading of Brexit and try to build a common beneficial future.
Together with the US, the United Kingdom is the main recipient of Spanish investment. Almost 300,000 Britons reside in Spain and more than 700 English companies operate in our country. Conversely, it is estimated that more than 200,000 Spaniards reside in the United Kingdom and 300 Spanish companies develop their activity there. It is important to protect the freedoms of movement of people, goods, services and capital achieved with so much effort since the beginning of the European Communities.
It is estimated that trade relations between the United Kingdom and Spain jointly report as much as 55,000 million euros per year. Moreover, in 2015 the trade balance between both countries was favorable to Spain for the ninth consecutive year. In the first half of 2016 alone, the total value of Spanish exports and imports to the United Kingdom was 10,043 and 5,657 million euros respectively, marking a trade surplus of 4.4% year-on-year.
And of course, tourism, the Spanish attraction par excellence, added more than 15.5 million tourists from this country who visited us in 2015 and spent around 14 billion euros, 20.9% of total revenue In Spain. In Spain, structural reforms are propitiating a growth whose engine is no longer just brick and whose financing is run by an increasingly healthy banking and financial system.
In order to transform the threats arising from Brexit into opportunities, it is urgent to start a constructive dialogue with the United Kingdom, both from Brussels and from Madrid. In the face of those who raise fear, uncertainty and political resentment, a high, clear, positive and, above all, pragmatic message must be sent: it is time to show that the Hispano-British relationship has enormous potential.
Leon Fernando del Canto serves as barrister in London, Lincoln’s Inn, and as Abogado in the Spanish Bar in Madrid, from which he advises on Spanish-British affairs.