Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy conveyed to Theresa May on Friday that the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU – commonly known as “Brexit” – must happen “quickly, and with a constructive and positive approach,” according to government sources. Rajoy’s 25-minute meeting with the British prime minister took place on Friday morning at the request of the latter, ahead of an informal EU summit of heads of state or government that is taking place today in Valletta, Malta.
May, who also met with other European leaders, explained to her interlocutors the details of the British position on Brexit, a stance that she explained last month in a speech and in a White Paper published on Thursday. She also explained the calendar ahead of the activation of Article 50 of the EU treaty, which will officially trigger Brexit and must happen before March.
According to sources consulted by EL PAÍS, both the Spanish and British PM coincided on the need to “not damage the interests of Spanish and British citizens” residing in each other’s countries. More than 300,000 Britons – most of whom are retired – are currently living in Spain, while around 200,000 Spaniards – most of whom are young and highly qualified – live in the UK.
It is in Spain’s interest for British citizens living in the country to remain comfortable post-Brexit, given that many claim pensions from the UK and invest plenty of capital in the purchase of properties – not to mention the 15.5 million Britons who visited the country in 2015, with UK tourists topping the list of nationalities that visit Spain.
What’s more, the United Kingdom is the second destination for Spanish investment abroad, while the trade balance is in Spain’s favor (€7 billion in 2015). All of these factors account for Rajoy’s interest in the Brexit process involving “the continuation of good relations between the UK and the EU,” according to government sources.
The thorny issue of Gibraltar – the UK territory in southern Spain over which the Spanish government has long claimed sovereignty – was not discussed at Friday’s meeting, according to the same sources. Nor was the position that Europe should take with regard to Donald Trump, despite the fact that Mrs May is the only European leader to have met with the new US president so far.
Rajoy and May first met on October 13 in Madrid. On this occasion there were no photographs of the meeting, on the request of the British delegation to preclude journalists from being granted access to the two leaders.