SPANISH Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been working since November on contingency plans for four key areas in case of a “hard Brexit”, in which the UK leaves the European Union without a deal on 29th March.
Now that the issue of Gibraltar has been agreed, largely, and no additional border controls will apply for those living in Spain and working in the British enclave, Sánchez is focusing on people, trade, economy and transport.
Protecting Brits in Spain, and Spaniards in Britain
British expats living in Spain have been worried about their future since 24th June, 2016, when the referendum results were announced. But Sánchez has them uppermost in his mind.
An estimated 750,000 UK nationals live in Spain, says his PSOE Government, and, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the PM is ready to pass a law immediately, to prevent them becoming “illegal immigrants”, and for them to continue having access to the National Health Service, pensions, State benefits, such as dole money, and to live and work.
Spain’s Parliamentary spokeswoman, Isabel Celáa, says the law will come into force in February if the UK continues without a concrete deal with the required backing.
It is unclear where this leaves holiday home-owners, present and future, who are not full-time residents in Spain. But Sánchez intends to allow Brits to travel freely between the UK and Spain without a visa, and will authorise flights between the two countries immediately, meaning expats will still be able to return for trips to see their families, and UK residents will not be cut off from their homes in the sun.
Given that foreign buyers, of whom Brits make up a significant number, are helping the housing market to recover, and also boost the economy by spending in Spain on their holidays, Sanchez is likely to ensure that no extra hurdles apply to purchasing homes on Spanish territory, or for those already owning second properties to live in them permanently when they retire.
But British residents in Spain remain sceptical, saying they will not believe anything until they see it in black and white. Yet they are quietly confident that the Sánchez Government will support them as promised.
Spaniards living in the UK have criticised its government and its MPs, in their native country, for not giving them “any type of information’”. They say the British authorities have been “drip-feeding them vague details”, but they agree that even this is “better than nothing”.
Sanchez, hearing their collective cry for help, announced that he will be thrashing out details of how to protect the 200,000-plus Spaniards living in the UK at a meeting today (Friday) with Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell.
But this issue could be more difficult for Spain to give guarantees, given that these residents are in the hands of British immigration policies, unlike UK-born expats in Spain to whom national policy, which Sánchez is able to control, will apply.
Urgent talks with Spanish firms at home, and in the UK Concerning trade, a no-deal Brexit could create hurdles for cross-border sales between the UK and the remaining 27 EU countries, including Spain.
If Britain does crash out without an agreement, it means the so-called “divorce bill” of some €44 billion, covering the UK’s contracted obligations to the bloc, including pensions for British civil servants in the EU, will not be paid.
Non-payment of its agreed dues to the EU means the UK is most unlikely to be considered a favourable or reliable trade partner.
Sánchez has been in talks with British-based Spanish companies since November, including Banco Santander, clothing chains Zara and Mango, plus holdings of Iberia and Telefónica, to help devise plans for how to carry on their businesses if the UK does crash out of the bloc without a deal.
Also, according to ICEX data in 2017, the UK was Spain’s third-largest destination for exports of goods and services. Just a year ago, Britain went through a highly-publicised 2lettuce crisis because harsh winter weather in Spain had reduced the usual crop yield and left the country unable to export more than a bare minimum to the UK. Exports to the UK from Spain have been reducing gradually since the referendum result, anyway, and in a worst-case scenario, could even grind to a halt if no agreement between France and Britain is reached over border controls.
Goods transported from Spain to Britain by land go through Dover port, and, without a deal, border controls in place could delay shipping, which means perishable goods would go off, including lettuce, and also oranges, of which the overwhelming majority in British supermarkets are grown in the Valencia region.
Air travel issues under discussion
Sánchez is also working hard on how to handle transport issues without a deal. Airlines based in, or travelling from the UK, whose majority share capital is from non-EU countries, will be unable to operate in the EU, because the existing legal framework, covering air travel between Britain and the continent, will cease to apply overnight, and no other regulatory system will be in place in time.
Given that Iberia is owned by a joint-venture firm, along with British Airways, its situation could be seriously compromised.
Josep Borrell says a no-deal Brexit “will not be positive” for Spain, and he and Sánchez will be working together closely over the next few weeks to put as many systems in place as they can, to limit the collateral damage.
But it seems as though the easiest issue to resolve for Spain’s Government will be that of safeguarding the existing EU-based rights of British nationals living in the country. Isabel Celáa said a website with full information for citizens and companies, was expected to be on air by last Monday (14th Jan).
Overall, Sra Celáa wants to “transmit a message of reassurance and calm” to those who fear they may be affected adversely by a possible no-deal Brexit.
The UK MPs voted Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal down on Tuesday, by a record 238. That leaves Britain just two-and-a-half months to decide its next step. She cancelled her planned “meaningful vote” regarding the same deal, in December.