Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that up to 95 percent of the more than 5,000 weekly flights between the UK and Spain are at risk if Britain crashes out of the EU without a Brexit deal in March. “If nothing is done it will be a nightmare in the European and UK airports”, director general Alexandre de Juniac told The Guardian.
On Friday, I spoke to Chris Dottie, the president of the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain, about Brexit (and the Catalan crisis). He said 200,000 jobs and €6 billion of tax revenue from British companies—which have invested €66 billion in Spain over the last ten years—are at stake with Brexit, not including the tourist sector.
Brits are the largest group of foreign tourists by far in Spain: the latest data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) shows 12.9 million visited Spain through the end of August this year, more than the French (8.3 million), the Germans (7.7 million), the Scandinavians (4 million), or the Italians (3 million). The total for last year was 18.8 million British tourists visiting Spain, a new record.
INE data also show about 97 percent of British tourists fly to Spain. That means a no-deal Brexit, via the IATA air industry warning and the INE data, puts Easter breaks, sunny summer holidays, boozy stag parties, raucous golf trips, long relaxing weekends in the villa on the costas and profitable business travel at risk for about 17.3 million people. And British tourists spent €17.4 billion here last year, so a no-deal Brexit puts about €16 billion of income for Spanish tourist companies on the line as well.
That would obviously be a complete disaster, both for British holidaymakers and Spanish tourism.
“I do think that no-deal unfortunately is quite a likely scenario”, said Mr. Dottie, who is attempting to advise his member companies on how to prepare for Brexit without having any clue about what precisely to prepare for. The food industry is also at risk, especially fruit and veg for British supermarkets, and a no-deal Brexit would cause chaos in the car and aircraft manufacturing industries. Spanish companies might find themselves exporting to a non-EU country in April.
Then there are the human resources implications for those 200,000 non-tourist jobs and for all of the other Brits in Spain, or Spaniards in the UK, who work in other industries, which dovetail precisely with the personal and professional worries of all those who live and work in one of the countries while holding the nationality of the other.
Will they be allowed to stay and work at all? In theory, neither London nor Madrid would be that stupid but here we are with five months to go and no Brexit deal. Will they need visas? Work permits? A new nationality? What will happen with social security registrations? If social security registrations are not sorted out, what happens to access to healthcare (not for British pensioners who retired to Spain but for British nationals who have been working here and paying taxes for 20 years)?
And let’s not forget voting rights, given that European and local elections will take place in Spain next May.
Life plans constructed over the last two or three decades, taking full advantage of rights as European citizens within the European Union, are suddenly, urgently, in danger for hundreds of thousands of people, because government negotiators are still arguing about what generic form Brexit will adopt.
Aware of how long bureaucracy takes to rubber stamp nationality, work, property or personal changes in status for corporations, families and individuals, everyone should be ticking the right boxes on the right forms for the right administrative options at this point, before paying the right fees at the right window in the right offices.
But no one knows what those boxes are, or what the forms look like, or where the offices are, or from which ultimate administrate ends each individual may choose to attempt to reorganise their own personal and family situation. Companies, as Mr. Dottie confirmed on Friday, are none the wiser either.
Whether you believe the referendum was really about immigration, the European Court of Justice, Boris and the big red bus, or Brussels and bendy bananas, it was a grand strategic decision for the United Kingdom: it will affect the whole country and its neighbours for a generation, at least. More than two years after the vote, however, the British government still has no clear idea about how to implement that long-term conclusion in specific strategies in the real world for different parts of the whole.
This lack of leadership, decision and planning will soon create palpable problems for a lot of people.