With a storm brewing on the horizon of London–Brussels relations over the Brexit negotiations, Felipe VI and Letizia of Spain finally began their twice-postponed state visit to the United Kingdom. The warm welcome extended by Queen Elizabeth and her family, as well as by the British government and parliament, underscored the excellent state of bilateral relations and common interests, and it served as a reminder of the last successful state visit by a Spanish monarch, in this case Felipe’s father Juan Carlos, 31 years ago now.
Beyond an exceptional display of protocol by the British monarchy, there was a joint session of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Westminster, where Felipe VI delivered a message rightly underscoring the importance of preserving bilateral relations before and after Britain exits the European Union. The king was right on target when he expressed dismay at the British people’s decision, yet showed full respect for this decision and pledged to work towards a scenario in which Spain and the UK, regardless of their differences, will be able to face common challenges together, especially with regard to fighting terrorism.
As Felipe VI said in his speech, people deserve certainty and guarantees about their future
Despite its friendly tone and praise-filled passages, the king’s speech – delivered mostly in English – did not avoid the thorniest subjects. The Spanish monarch did not fail to mention Gibraltar or invoke the rights of Spaniards living in the UK who will be affected by Brexit. But Felipe VI also reminded the members of the oldest functioning parliament in the world about the importance that the Spanish economy has for the British economy through its businesses and capital, and its contribution to job creation and growth in Britain.
The events in London were in stark contrast to what was happening on the other side of the Channel, where Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, was starting to show signs of impatience in the face of yet another British attempt at avoiding the tab that London will have to pick up before negotiating its future relationship with the EU. The British government must accept that its obligations to the EU will not end until the day that its departure is finalized, and that it has a mandate to take the country out of the Union, but not a mandate to default on its obligations.
The British government must accept that its obligations to the EU will not end until the day that its departure is finalized
Against this backdrop, it did not help at all to have Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, join the debate in his usual blunt style and declare that Brussels officials can “go whistle” if they expect London to pay for leaving the EU. Johnson would do well to drop the demagoguery and get serious about a complex process where there is a lot at stake for his country. Barnier’s reply, and by extension the EU’s, could not have been more logical: the European Commission has already published nine documents explaining its position, whereas the British position is a complete mystery, and time is running out. As Felipe VI said in his speech, people deserve certainty and guarantees about their future.
English version by Susana Urra.