Spain travel ban has little to do with health, and much to do with Brexit

Amancay Tapia
Around 18 million Britons visit Spain each year; perfect “bargaining chips” in the ongoing Brexit negotiations - getty

There are many posters plastered all over the Rías Baixas beaches in Pontevedra, Spain, urging citizens to comply with the Covid-19 regulations. “Sentidiño” (“common sense”) reads one of them. Nonetheless, the “sentidiño” of the British government in suddenly deciding to impose a quarantine on all travellers arriving from Spain has been questioned by many.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez branded the decision “unjust”, claiming that the new Covid-19 surge was specific to a few regions and that those outbreaks are being contained. CEHAT (the Spanish tourism association) has offered to pay for tourists to take tests in Spain and called the decision “illogical”. Those whose travel plans have been affected see themselves as pawns in what appears to be as much a political decision as a health one.

Wearing a face mask at all times is mandatory in Spain, even if you are able to maintain the two-metre social distancing rule. Hand-gel dispensers are everywhere and apart from a few careless youths who were caught partying in now-banned “botellones” (drinking alcohol in public spaces), the vast majority of Spanish respect the regulations. It is believed that the latest rise in transmission has been mainly due to social gatherings, resulting in health experts repeatedly warning people to take social distancing seriously.

Sue Wilson, the Chair of Bremain in Spain, which aims to protect the rights of Britons living in Spain, sees the UK government’s decision as a blame game. She said: “The Government should focus more time on examining their own backyard rather than blaming their European neighbours. Throughout this pandemic, they have been slow to respond and the one time they act quickly it is without thought for those affected.”

This raises the question: did geopolitics play a part in this decision? 

According to INE (the Spanish Institute for National Statistics), 18 million people from the UK visited Spain in 2019. Britons therefore make up one-fifth of foreign visitors to a country that received 83.7 million tourists last year.

These precious visitors are once again the perfect “bargaining chips” in the ongoing Brexit negotiations. There is no agreement yet on a key issue for the EU and Great Britain: fishing and access to fishing waters. Moreover, the current Spanish government may have dropped its sovereignty claim to Gibraltar, but the Rock is still trying to retain EU ties after the Brexit transition period ends. We shouldn’t forget that the future of this British Overseas Territory depends on both the UK and Spain.  

Furthermore, the British government is well aware that the millions of euros which British visitors usually contribute to the Spanish economy every year would be welcomed by any other nation in the world in a heartbeat. Even if these countries are geographically more than a two-hour flight away from the UK. The U.S. economy has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic in the second quarter of 2020. Just imagine how beneficial those 18 million British visitors could be to the North American nation. Right now, more “sentidiño” from our leaders is required. Alas, they appear intent on playing political games instead, which are seriously disrupting the everyday lives of thousands of people.