Why Spain and Britain are two peas in a pod

The funny thing about Spain and Great Britain is they’re really the two distant cousins who always wrangle at family gatherings.

Over the last three years alone, the Spanish Government has rebuffed Scottish independence, threatened the rights of British expats in the EU and promised to veto post-Brexit access to the single market. 

As a riposte, the UK Government has refused to deny that it will use the 129,000 Spaniards in Great Britain as a bargaining chip (a poor one, given that 309,000 British citizens reside and work in Spain). The UK Government, of course, never admits that its Brexit plans are a flummoxed policy fudge.

Nevertheless, the Spanish and the British have more in common than their foreign policies might suggest. 

Both countries, perhaps more than any other two, are littered with monuments to their past imperial glories which can legitimately be said to have shaped the modern word over the last 600 years. They’re post-imperial, but have never found a comfortable seat for themselves at the global table because they’re no longer at the head of it. 

The frustration of living in the shadow of such a tall past makes for an almost excusable explanation as to why both Spain and the UK are seeing the rise of reactionary politics in the first decades of the 21st century.

So often the answers to the future rest in the past. If the UK is to reevaluate its relationship with Europe and genuinely wants to move forward with bilateral relationships, then it must do more to ensure its people move past populist cliches about international history. For Spain, if it is to salvage its economic and political gains from being a part of the EU then it must step up and turn vitriol into a positive vision for EU-UK relations.

There is, of course, nothing but poetic irony in Spain maintaining Ceuta and Melilla, on the African coast opposite Gibraltar, which the Spanish proclaim is self-evidently theirs. Gibraltar, forever a thorn in the side of Spanish-British relations, is now the prototype for how an amicable international solution can be secured which puts the rights of citizens before political grievance.

To create a meaningful settlement that puts citizens first, both nations must, as Robert Burns advises, “see themselves as others see them’. Only then can there be any real hope that the post-Brexit world might offer some semblance of friendship over enmity.

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Alastair Stewart 255 Articles

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer, journalist, and teacher based in Edinburgh and Almería. He regularly writes about politics, history, and culture for magazines across Europe.


He was formerly a press officer at the Scottish Parliament. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations.


Alastair founded DARROW in 2013 to support new and emerging writing talent in Scotland around the world.

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