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A Spanish view of Brexit

Spain is pretty much occupied with its own domestic issues – the trial of Catalan independence leaders and the sudden eruption of the far-right, for example, but the Brexit pantomime continues to fascinate, confuse and disgust.

Spaniards, who have long viewed British politics as an ancient beacon of democracy and informed debate, are struggling to reconcile that ideal with the realities of recent history.

“We’ve always had a bit of a complex – always thought our democracy was more imperfect because it was younger than that of France, the UK or Germany,” says Marta García Aller, a journalist with online newspaper El Independiente.

But the UK political class’s ability to ensure that Brexit somehow manages to play out as both tragedy and farce has marked a before and an after.

“I think most people see it as chaos – and that’s very strange in a country whose people have such a strong reputation for being disciplined and well-organised,” says Aller.

There is, however, little schadenfreude. Spain is devoutly pro-EU and all too aware of how much is at stake. Perhaps that’s why the word that comes up most frequently in relation to Brexit is incertidumbre, or uncertainty.

“People are starting to realise that this is all really happening, and worrying about what it will mean for the Spanish economy,” says Aller.

“What’s going to happen with the British tourists who are fundamental to the economy? To the retired Britons who live here? The thousands of Spaniards who work in the UK? We’ve all got a friend or know someone who’s a nurse in a British hospital or a teacher in a British university.”

Ignacio Molina, a senior analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, agrees Brexit has disfigured the image of British politics as “moderate, pragmatic and dependable”. In the bungled departure preparations, he sees echoes of the UK’s post-imperial wane.

According to Molina, the “systemic failure” of Brexit has called into question the very idea of “the great British democracy. It’s a project that hasn’t been thought through. Even with Trump, there’s a strategy. But with Brexit there’s no strategy and no plan. It’s the most un-British thing there is.”

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