"Without the City, the European economy would be weaker"
Many questions have been raised about the future of Europe after the UK’s unexpected vote to leave the European Union. British access to the single market, the situation of EU citizens who live in the UK and future alliances between the fifth world power and other countries are just some of the questions to which there are still no answers. Simon Manley, the British ambassador to Spain, was recently at BioSpain, the biotechnology fair in Bilbao, and he spoke about some of the main issues which will need to be negotiated between London and Brussels.
–The direction of the EU changed with the result of the referendum. Was ‘Brexit’ a goal scored by the far right against Cameron?
–It wasn’t the decision that David Cameron was expecting, but there are many explanations for it, some related to globalisation or the part played by the Labour party. However, this was the most important referendum in British history and we cannot look back. We have to look forward now.
–So the so-called ‘regrexit’ won’t be possible?
–The British people voted to leave the EU and we respect that decision. We are not going to hold a second or third referendum to change public opinion. We are working on how to leave, analysing all aspects of our relationship with the European Union and evaluating all the possibilities. In any case, we’re not going to turn our back on Europe. We are and we will be European, and we hope to reach an agreement which will be beneficial for both sides.
–David Davis, one of the ministers in charge of negotiating, has said that Britain’s aim is to have access to the single market but restrict EU citizens coming into the UK. Do you believe the other members will agree to that?
–We haven’t announced our objectives in the negotiations, but the result of the referendum is explained, partly, by concerns about the effects of the arrival of large numbers of people from the EU and elsewhere. We have to respect people’s feelings and find an agreement which reflects their concern and the need to open our market to the world.
–If the future is open, Brexit seems to have been quite the contrary. Breaking the ties with Europe seems to be the response of British people who miss the Empire.
–There will be generations of professors and students who carry out studies to explain what happened, but the country didn’t change on June 23rd. We decided to leave, but we will be the same state, the only important one to respect the UN’s commitment to pay 0.7 per cent of its budget to aid development and one which also spends another two per cent on common defence as part of NATO. We have paid 2.3 billion pounds to tackle the crisis in Syria and our armed forces are there and in Iraq. We have a global presence and the willingness to play an important role in the world.
–But the country is still divided. Brexit showed a polarisation of the electorate of almost 50 per cent.
–If everyone had the same opinion we wouldn’t have needed a referendum. We are not North Korea. We are a vibrant democracy and Theresa May’s role now is to determine our objectives and focus on the negotiations, in consultation with the Scottish government, which has a very different opinion, Wales and Northern Ireland.
–What will happen to European residents in 2018, when Britain leaves definitively?
–Many Europeans contribute to our society and our economy and we are proud of their contribution. There are also 280,000 British people registered as living in Spain, and we hope to reach an overall agreement.
–But will their legal status remain the same?
–We will need to look at the details. When we finish our analysis, we will announce it. We intend to be prudent about the interests of British people and we hope to reach a reciprocal agreement. For me, the secrets of success in the 21st century are economies which are more open to foreign investment and talented people.
–You support the creation of a single market with the USA. Will Washington become London’s new best friend?
–We are great allies and have had a very strong relationship for centuries. We don’t want to reduce our economic relationship with the EU and we do want to strengthen the one we have with India and China. We are talking about a country which is open to the world.
–But in Calais you’re building a wall with French support.
–What we are doing in Calais, with the collaboration of the French authorities, is fighting illegal immigration and violence. We are worried about the attacks on lorry drivers and tourists, and what we want to do is ensure free movement of people.
–The European Banking Authority has said it will withdraw from London, and institutions with headquarters there and continental interests have also warned that they plan to move to Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. JPMorgan is suggesting that Madrid would be the best substitute. Will the City suffer from segregation?
–The City is an incredible ecosystem, not only because of the proliferation of banks and services. It has all the advantages of London as a communications hub and it’s not just a European financial centre, it’s a global one. Its contribution to the continental economy is very high. Without the financial resources of the City, the economy of the eurozone would be weaker. If Europe loses its global financial centre, Paris, Frankfurt or San Sebastián won’t be the winners; New York and Singapore will.
–What does London think is the best solution to the situation in Syria?
–It is a major tragedy. What happened a few days ago in Aleppo is horrible and we have accused Russia of committing war crimes. We have to keep fighting for a peace agreement promoted by the UN.source surinenglish