THE pressures of being British ambassador to Spain during the ongoing Brexit complexities are intense. But Simon Manley showed cool professionalism openly answering concerns of British expats put to him by Caroline Tyszka in this exclusive EWN interview at the Melia Villaitana hotel complex in Benidorm.
BREXIT does not mean Britain is leaving Europe, merely that it is coming out the European Union and becoming a sovereign independent United Kingdom “tolerant at home and confident abroad.”
Spelling this out, Ambassador Manley was also keen to ease other concerns of the tens of thousands of British expatriates who call southern Spain home in the count-down to the triggering of Article 50 to Brexit.
Spain does not recognise dual nationality. What do you recommend to Britons considering applying for a Spanish passport?
“It is a matter for the individual. As British Ambassador for Spain I am not going to be recommending people take another nationality. My priority is to ensure that in the negotiations we secure the best possible deal for British people living in Spain – and anywhere else in the EU – and that we secure that deal as soon as possible. I know through all the contacts we have had, and talking to British people across Spain, of the uncertainty they feel. I know people are very worried about reductions in their British pensions because of the fluctuating currency, and concerned about continuing health care and we are expressing these concerns to the Spanish Government.”
How often do you receive updates from the UK government regarding the Brexit process and negotiations?
“All the time, from both the Foreign Office and the new Brexit department. We are in close contact with all our European colleagues as well as understanding the position of the Spanish government, plus Spanish media and Spanish businesses. We spend a lot of time talking to Spanish investors in the UK and British investors in Spain, having a very fluid interchange with all parties.”
There appears a positive message from Spanish regional governments, with the Valencian authorities seeking to assure the British that they will still be welcome and valued. Is this the message you are getting?
“That’s right. My own contact with regional presidents all over Spain is that they are very keen to see the British here and continue to attract new business and tourism. It matters to them. The main problem is rumours and speculation via the British media which then get picked up by their Spanish counterparts, making what is fact and what is fiction blurred. I recommend people keep an eye – as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for accurate information – on the British Government’s website and Facebook page.
Have you been told to prepare for a worst-case scenario in the event of a hard Brexit?
“The most important thing is to prepare for the negotiations. We want to make sure they are a success, in that we come out with a sovereign independent United Kingdom which is tolerant at home, confident abroad, and engages in free trading across the world. This will give prosperity to the British people whilst having a close, constructive relationship with the European union, because we voted to leave the EU not Europe, and we will all continue to face the same threats, whether through terrorism or Russian aggression, and we need to work together to face those threats.”
Do you think the House of Lords decision has complicated things for the public and their understanding of what this means for Brexit, and with Tony Blair speaking out, did this detract from the inevitable?
“It’s really important that we realise we have a democratic parliamentary process going on, we are the world’s greatest democracy, I am confident we will bring that process to a successful conclusion this month, and that Theresa May will be writing to her EU colleagues shortly. I recognise some of these developments make people wonder what is happening, which makes me come back to the British Government website for updates, ensuring the things people read are the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
If you were a retired expat in Spain, how would you be planning for the potential changes?
“Firstly I would make sure that I was on the padron to ensure continued access to health care and also registering that I was legitimately here. I would also be thinking ahead and planning my finances for the future.
“It is important to remember that whilst we are leaving the EU we all face many similar challenges; combating terrorists, aging populations and active labour markets, issues that we share and work closely together with, and will continue to do so.”