MADRID — Spain is stepping up calls on businesses to get ready for any potential Brexit outcome.
Industry and Commerce Minister Reyes Maroto this week announced a series of actions aimed at “helping companies prepare contingency plans” for Brexit, including informational meetings with business leaders and a public website.
“We have to inform companies that any scenario can occur,” she told reporters. “Some [companies] still convey to us hopes that nothing will happen, and the reality is that something is going to happen.”
Only 31 percent of Spanish companies have made contingency plans for Brexit, and just 19 percent have started implementing those plans, according to a survey of 2,000 executives conducted by KPMG in coordination with the CEOE, Spains biggest business lobby.
A CEOE official said the government has told businesses to prepare for three potential scenarios: A no-deal Brexit (with the U.K. falling under the trade rules of the World Trade Organization), a so-called Canada-plus agreement — which would go beyond the EUs deal with the North American country — and a deal whereby the U.K. remains in the EU customs union.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has told civil and business leaders to prepare for any kind of Brexit | Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images
Madrid has consistently advocated for the softest possible Brexit, under both the current Socialist and previous conservative governments. But there are growing concerns among officials that this may not be the outcome, leading some to fear Spain could be one of the biggest economic losers from Brexit.
The U.K. is the biggest recipient of Spanish foreign investment, the second largest foreign investor in Spain and the fifth biggest destination for Spanish exports. The U.K. also sends the largest number of tourists to Spain, and Brits buy more real estate in the country than any other foreign nationals, according to KPMG.
On top of that, more than 300,000 British nationals live in Spain — the highest number from any EU country — and around 150,000 Spaniards live in the U.K.
Marotos comments follow a series of warnings in recent weeks by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, asking both public administrations and business leaders to get ready for any kind of Brexit.
“The agreement on air transport is the most important thing” — Josep Borrell, Spanish foreign minister
Speaking in Parliament last week, Sánchez called on all economic, social and institutional stakeholders to elaborate “their own contingency plans” to face “any kind of scenario that can occur after March 29, 2019.”
Last month, Borrell warned the Congress of Deputies that many companies still dont have contingency plans, when they should. “Its important for people to understand that we must be ready for any eventuality,” he said.
A Spanish diplomat working on the Brexit negotiations said the likelihood of a cliff-edge, no-deal scenario had increased slightly after the EU and the U.K. failed to reach an agreement in October, leading Madrid to accelerate preparations.
The diplomat said Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo is coordinating plans across all government departments, which, he said, includes getting ready to hire extra customs officers, as well laying out urgent regulations on trade protocols or phytosanitary standards.
He said Madrid was stepping up calls for everyone to get ready for Brexit after seeing that Spanish companies lagged their German and French counterparts in their preparations.
Top among Madrids economic concerns is the fate of the aviation sector.
“The agreement on air transport is the most important thing,” Borrel said in Congress. Spains flagship airline Iberia is part of the IAG conglomerate that also owns British Airways, Aer Lingus and Vueling.
Spanish officials have also expressed concerns about the fishing industry — Spanish shipowners partly rely on British waters — tourism and expected cuts to agricultural subsidies and structural funds.