You are in:
  • Send

Article by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, published in the newspaper ' El País '

Prepared for Brexit

Wednesday 13 March 2019

The British Parliament has decided to reject ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement reached between the Heads of State and Government of the European Union and the Government of the United Kingdom. It has done so despite the additional guarantees offered with great effort by the Union. The decision is one that I regret profoundly. It means prolonging the situation of uncertainty only two weeks before the date that Brexit should theoretically take place.

We can take many lessons from this process, which has put the British people at what is really a dead end.

It is impossible to understand Brexit without taking account of three factors: a nationalism that proposes a retrenchment based on extolling myths and false nostalgia; the rise of the far right; and the simplification of the democratic process through the mechanism of referendum as a tool offering simple answers to complex questions.

The years before the referendum was held in June 2016 were marked by the rise of the UK Independence Party, a political party that has made the UK's exit from the EU its core mission. To ensure that its story should take hold in British society it has constantly demonised the EU and consciously forgotten people's real needs. This was done with a single purpose: to ensure that the UK's exit from the EU should monopolise the political agenda.

We thus witnessed the repeat of a phenomenon that is well known in this continent's history: a minority and extremist sector has imposed its ideas by way of conditioning other political actors. These actors have sacrificed pragmatism with devastating consequences.

The referendum took place, with the result that we all know.

The decision-making method was not unrelated to the circumstances in which we find ourselves today: a simple yes or no response to complex questions that have transcendental consequences. It is a binary decision-making mechanism with mutually exclusive alternatives, which refuse to accept the wealth of nuances inherent to democracy; to the vision of democracy that it is worth preserving in Europe.

The campaign made use of all kinds of exaggerations and lies. It was claimed that there would be additional resources for the National Health Service; that there would be access to the single market; or that dozens of trade agreements would be ready immediately.

The Government of Spain's maximum priority has always been the same: to offer rigour, certainty and security during the process, particularly to ordinary people and economic actors; and to strengthen the foundations of a future relationship with a country to which we are bound by strong ties of all kinds.

On a day such as today, what is important is that Spain has done what it had to do. Spain is prepared for any scenario, with a deal or without it.

To manage the UK's exit with certainty, in November, once the guarantees on Gibraltar that Spain needed were verified, the Heads of State and Government endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration of future relations.

This Agreement offers peace of mind and security to the citizens who have taken key decisions based on the UK's membership of the Union for decades, while preserving their rights and guaranteeing that the UK will comply with the financial commitments acquired during its membership of the EU.

It also included a transitional period that will allow a gradual adaptation to new circumstances, and progress to be made on negotiating future relations between the EU and the UK.

Moreover, the Agreement guarantees that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will continue to be invisible, thus preserving peace and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. And in fact there are few better examples to illustrate more clearly the key role played by Europe in healing the wounds that had festered for generations; the open wounds of forgotten borders that some are so determined to build up again.

The Agreement offers all the guarantees, certainty and security possible for an orderly withdrawal; and it is supplemented by a Political Declaration that sets out the path towards a mutually beneficial relationship in the future.

With respect to Gibraltar, the European Council and the Commission have adopted a joint declaration in which for the first time in history a determining role has been recognised for Spain, including the right to a veto on future relations between the colony and the EU. The guarantees obtained have been enhanced by including clarification on the territorial scope of Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement in the new joint instrument. Thanks to this, we are in a privileged position to construct a future of shared prosperity between Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar over the coming decades.

The 27 Member States made the greatest effort possible to be flexible in arriving at this agreement. Unfortunately, when the most intransigent nationalism monopolises the debate any concession or pact is interpreted as treason.

In January the British Parliament was faced with the dilemmas arising from the destruction of a network of political, legal and economic relations dating back more than 45 years. It was the logical culmination of a process contaminated by the simplistic rhetoric proposed by a divisive tool such as a referendum.

The members of parliament neither ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, nor could they reach a consensus on the actual possibilities: a no-deal exit, the negotiated agreement or remaining in the EU. Heightened enthusiasm for the referendum decision has been followed by a total political blockage.

In any event, I would like to transmit a message of calm in the face of a possible no-deal exit. On 1 March the Government of Spain approved a Royal Decree with contingency measures that cover all aspects linked to the withdrawal. It has also taken measures of a logistical nature, with the approval of a public-sector job offer for the most affected areas, such as customs.

At the same time, the European Commission has adopted the necessary measures within the area of their competence.

Following withdrawal, the UK will no longer form part of the EU, but it will remain part of Europe. It will continue to be a partner of great importance, particularly for Spain, the EU country with the biggest number of British residents and tourists.

The measures we have adopted protect the rights of British citizens resident in Spain; and the British Government has announced that it will act in the same way in the case of Spanish residents.

Our bilateral relations are, and will continue to be, excellent. The UK can count on Spain as a partner and ally. With respect to future relations, I would like to maintain the greatest possible mobility for our citizens and connectivity between our two countries, as well as the closest cooperation possible in the area of security, the fight against organised crime and terrorism.

Whatever happens from now on, the Union must continue its process of integration. The upcoming European elections will be decisive. They will be a face-off between two clearly defined choices.

One appeals to the past, to rejection of diversity and fear for the future; the other is represented by firmly European political parties, which are committed to reason and common sense, through agreement and the spirit of consensus. It is time to take a step forward for this Europe; it is the time to protect Europe if we want a Europe that can protect us.

On Thursday, at the European Council meeting, I will continue to work to guarantee the security and certainty of Spanish and European citizens; to guarantee the validity of a unique framework in the world, which requires the commitment of pro-Europe governments to continue to make progress; to defend the European model. It is the only model that has been able to combine economic development and the primacy of rights, freedoms and values which are worth continuing to fight for.

NOTE: Article published with the authorisation of El País.

Non official translation