BRITISH Ambassador Simon Manley believes an agreement over citizens’ rights post-Brexit is “close” – one of the “biggest” issues between the UK and its European partners.
He said there was real behind the scenes progress. “We are close to a definitive agreement between the 27 countries of the European Union and the UK on this part of negotiations.”
Mr Manley was speaking after meeting expats at the Miguel Hernandez University in Elche on Monday; an event organised by the Brexpats in Spain pressure group.
He said more than 100 people attended the ‘outreach’ session, more than 70 have been held with the ambassador and consular teams since the British people voted ‘leave’ in last year’s referendum.
“I think it is still a very divisive issue; that’s as true here as back in the UK,” said Mr Manley.
“I think, to be honest, there is a good deal of anxiety and some degree of misinformation and rumour. Even when we explain the progress we have made at negotiations, people, quite rightly, say ‘fine’ but when do you have a final answer?
“What we tried to do at the meeting was a mix of explaining and listening; there are two sides of the coin which are equally important.”
He said there was more progress on citizens’ rights for British people resident in the EU and Europeans living in the UK than was reflected in the media.
“It is important we understand why people are worried and what they are worried about. Every time we do an outreach session we come away with a new issue we were not aware of and we look afresh at an issue we thought we were on top of.”
Mr Manley said Spanish government ministers and the presidents of the autonomous regions were positive and consistent about their view on British expats.
“They think the presence of so many Brits here in Spain is a very positive one for what it brings to the economy, both directly and indirectly and there is also the link between residents and tourism,” he said.
“They want to see the Brits here stay and more arrive in the future. They want this sector, Spain’s offer of a retirement centre for north Europeans to continue to be an attractive one.
“They want to reassure people…in the short term nothing is changing and in the medium term that things remain as similar as today as possible; it will not be exactly the same because we will no longer be in the EU.”
He said governments had a “duty” to work towards a deal that allowed expats “to live their lives with the least possible change or disruption.”
Mr Manley and Consul Sarah-Jane Morris are pictured enjoying afternoon tea at Calpe Town Hall on Tuesday, provided by local business Tea for Two.