“We want the Spanish to stay there and the British here. There is no more important issue than citizens in these negotiations,” Manley, referring to the Brexit negotiations, told reporters at the UK embassy in Madrid on July 6, according to El Pais.
Approximately 130,000 Spanish citizens live in the UK while more than 300,000 British citizens live in Spain. Both demographic groups remain uncertain about their future residential rights as Britain and the EU continue to linger over the terms of the UK's departure from the EU.
Manley stressed that the UK was keen for Spanish students and workers to be able to remain in the UK and for their residency rights to be sorted ASAP.
According to figures released by the British Council, more than 10,000 Spanish students are enrolled in higher education at UK universities.
In a speech to the European Parliament on June 26, Theresa May had suggested that the more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK would have to apply for a residency card after the UK's formal departure from the European Union.
The offer was widely dismissed as insufficient by EU politicians. Prime Minister May said a new category of foreign resident would be created for the proposed system.
“I understand the frustration this can generate,” Ambassador Manley assured the gathered media on the rights of Spanish residents, “but we want them to stay. We are trying to develop a process for the future that will be as simple as possible,” he added.
Manley stressed that the UK government was willing to accommodate suggestions from Spain towards the creation of such a procedure. The new attitude suggests a softening and a u-turn on the part of the UK government following heavy EU criticism of Theresa May's initial post-Brexit offer for EU citizens.
Ambassador Manley's comments come before the Spanish royal family is due to visit the UK on a state visit next week.
Commenting on whether Spanish King Felipe VI could mention Gibraltar when addressing the UK parliament next week – like his predecessor King Juan Carlos I did in 1986 – Manley acknowledged that this was possible. The ambassador added that for a foreign head of state to address parliament “is something special” that only gets offered “to the most important and appreciated friends.”
Discussing the controversial forthcoming Catalan secession referendum, Manley said it was an “issue for Spain” but said the case bore similarities with Scotland, according to Voz de Galicia.