Last week I had the pleasure of hosting His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain and his wife Queen Letizia at Guildhall.
As the first State Visit to the UK by Spanish royalty since 1986, it was an excellent opportunity to focus on the strong bilateral relations between our great nations. The warmth of the relationship was evident at every turn.
Over the years, the UK and Spain have built a deep business relationship which has helped both countries prosper. Spain has long been the most popular travel destination for UK holidaymakers, and both British and Spanish nationals have benefitted from one of the EU’s founding principles – free movement of people – with around 23,000 Spaniards living in London alone.
Brexit is, of course, a major concern for residents in both countries. We discussed this at length.
Spanish workers in London represent the third highest European population, but it is important to remember that it is not just the UK job market which attracts so many people here, but also our desire to welcome Spanish culture into our own.
London has long been enthralled by Spanish customs and tastes – from the clustering of tapas bars in the West End to the Iberian brand names colonising the high street. A recent festival, Feria de Londres, took place at the iconic Tower Bridge and brought together emblematic Spanish dance, music, food and much more to celebrate the culture of Spain.
I discussed many things with Spanish business leaders last week, but cyber security has clearly become one of the most pressing issues facing both the UK and Spain. It will require a joint international approach in order to tackle it.
Companies such as CounterCraft – a UK-Spanish counterintelligence company – are at the forefront of this, developing ways forward in order to prevent emerging cyber threats. The strengthening of our nations’ cyber protection capabilities will help stop cyber threats interfering with business between the UK and Spain.
Another example of a Spanish company that has been successful in the UK is Spain’s largest bank, Santander, which has a significant presence in London. The bank is taking advantage of its base in the City, Europe’s leading centre for fintech, and is working in collaboration with numerous London tech firms.
This collaboration can be seen in the bank’s recent launch of a new and creative way for its UK customers to apply for mortgages, through the use of video screens located in 66 branches across the UK. This digital innovation has been helped along by the close ties the UK financial services sector shares with tech companies – a proximity and accessibility which would not be available in many other European hubs.
I know our government recognises the importance of our business relationship with Spain, and I am confident that a good Brexit deal for Spaniards living in the UK can, and will, be struck – not least because of the economic impact, but also because of the cultural diversity which these talented individuals bring to the UK.
London is a better place thanks to its rich diversity and I am hopeful that this remains the case in years to come.
Read more: Santander to take over Spain's Banco Popular