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Spanish-British culture figures analyze the bilateral cultural relationship after Brexit

Outstanding figures of British Hispanic culture have participated in the round table Future: English & Hispanic Culture After Brexit, in which they highlighted the necessity of unifying both countries to face the challenges and seize the opportunities after Brexit. One of the main issues discussed focused on the relevance of Spanish as a relevant language for everyday life and its incredible growth in British schools. The event took place at the Cervantes Theatre under the auspices of the Instituto Cervantes in London and with support from the Spanish Embassy.

The round table was introduced by the Ambassador of Spain to the United Kingdom, Carlos Bastarreche as well as the Ambassador of Honduras to the United Kingdom. Subsequently, the director of Instituto Cervantes, Luis García Montero, paid a tribute to British Hispanism, praising the work of great historians and academics such as Sir John Elliott, Sir Paul Preston and the recently deceased, Trevor Dadson.

The round table was moderated by the correspondent of El País in the United Kingdom, Rafa de Miguel, and had the following speakers: the director of the English National Ballet (ENB), Tamara Rojo; the Ambassador of Ecuador to the United Kingdom and novelist, Jaime Marchán; former United Kingdom ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley; the director of the Institute for Modern Languages Research (IMLR), Catherine Davies; the president of the Society of Spanish Scientists in the United Kingdom (CERU), Rocio Gaudioso; and the researcher of the Elcano Royal Institute, Ignacio Molina.

The value of language as a human right

The Ambassador of Ecuador to the United Kingdom and novelist, Jaime Marchán, pointed out that Brexit is “the democratic realisation of the decision of a member country to leave the EU”. However, he said that, like any change, it can also be «seen as an opportunity» and believes that, from now on, we will see a European country with greater autonomy to play an important global role in all areas, including cultural aspects.

For Marchán, Brexit «invites us to reflect on the universal power of the English language beyond all borders» and cited a memorable phrase by George Steiner, a fundamental figure of critical thinking of the twentieth century, which in his opinion summarises the perfection the multicultural sense of language and literature: «Give me a work table and I already have a homeland.»

In fact, his commitment as Ambassador is “for a better reciprocal knowledge of both languages: Spanish and English”, highlighting how the Cervantes Institute and the British Council are an important cultural base to increase better and greater knowledge, not only of the languages, but of the Latin American and English cultures. But language is not just words, and as such, he insisted on the importance of  «the value of language as a human right.»

«The incredible growth» of Spanish in British schools

The former United Kingdom ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, hopes that the future of the cultural relationship between the United Kingdom and the Hispanic world after Brexit will be “very rich”, extolling the links and opportunities, especially “thanks to the efforts of so many Spaniards so talented in our country. ”

For Manley, the current challenge is «uncertainty and false news” but he appreciates that future opportunities»are more important».  Our two countries are proud of their great traditions, but with international views and innovative visions. In addition, he highlighted “the incredible growth” of Castilian in British schools, and how, the Hispanic culture advances in several dimensions, with Netflix series such as La casa de papel a la flamenco, cine, or gastronomia.

Spanish, a language relevant to everyday life

The director of the Institute for Modern Languages ​​Research (IMLR), Catherine Davies, noted that in the last ten years, the number of students enrolling in modern languages ​​has decreased, especially in German and French, but not in the case of Spanish and Portuguese, which have grown in importance, status and impact in the higher education sector.

In the case of Spanish studies in schools, Davies believes that interest in Spanish has grown tremendously in the last 20 years: “Spanish is considered relevant for everyday life, mainly because most Britons and their children have visited Spain and have spent their holidays there. Many British expatriates live in Spain, especially grandparents. Spanish is an easy language to acquire at a basic level, so communication can be established quickly. Young people are motivated, feel they are making progress and can test their language skills on vacation. ”

Davies points out that Brexit will make «it will be more difficult to recruit university professors and professors from Spain» and did not hide her concern about how «the constant traffic of goods and people between the two countries can be seriously compromised». However, Davies also pointed out that British interest in Spain started prior to the entry of the United Kingdom into the EU.

United Kingdom and the European Union are needed

The president of the Society of Spanish Scientists in the United Kingdom (CERU), Rocio Gaudioso, stressed that the scientific community is in a situation with respect to Brexit which is, «at the same time, an opportunity and a challenge: research cannot be done in isolation, the United Kingdom and the European Union need each other to maintain their competitiveness and to face the social and technological challenges that come ”.

Gaudioso also pointed out that Spanish-British relations in research are “mature and well founded in respect and admiration between both countries’. This situation can help reduce the negative effects of Brexit, but he stressed that “the damage is already becoming visible and it can only be prevented with the strength of diplomacy and scientific collaboration. Our governments must remember our common objectives so that we can face the upcoming challenges”.

Gaudioso is clear that “research has always been, and always will be, a global mission. The challenges we face cannot be solved by countries in isolation and this is something that both researchers and governments know. The promises and good wishes are there but now we need the political will on both sides of the channel to reflect this desire and make a relationship as close as possible so that the research community can continue working together. ”

Two aspects of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and Spain

During the round table, the researcher of the Elcano Royal Institute, Ignacio Molina, alluded to two aspects of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and Spain. The first focuses on a more European dimension: trying to answer the question of why the British perception of the rest of EU citizens has always been so different about what the integration process is and should be .

“Among the 27 (and singularly in Spain) it has tended mostly to see Europe as the solution to national problems in terms of peace, security, prosperity, welfare, normalisation, democracy. On the other hand, neither the elites nor the public opinion of the United Kingdom has been deeply aware that their national being was «problematic» or «threatened» and, therefore, they have not seen the EU as that great company for the future that it was its own, but rather as a pragmatic calculation or a simple lesser evil, ”said Molina.

In the second aspect of his participation in the table, he dealt specifically with the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Spain. In this case, he was interested in raising, with some optimistic provocation, the opinion “that there is no longer enmity between two States in the History of International Relations (partly because they are two of the oldest States in the world) nor is there another case in two countries that, being neither neighbors nor sharing language, now have such an intense relationship and potential for harmony. Harmony that at the moment has not been expressed so much in politics (partly because of the very different ways in which both countries view European integration or the old contentious matter of Gibraltar) but it is interesting to take into account the focus of the rest of the speakers at the table, in the cultural, personal and business aspects ”.

For Molina, it is clear that “Brexit marks a before and after in how we can relate between the United Kingdom and the EU. It is inevitable that the relationship suffers on all levels. And we are waiting to see how that agreement of the future is shaped from 2021. Right now, the main challenge is to avoid a hard Brexit, although it cannot be entirely optimistic. However, I don’t think you have to be so pessimistic about the specific Hispanic-British link. ”

Poetry reading at the Cervantes Theatre

The event concluded with a recital of Spanish love poetry in tribute to the Spanish Trevor Dadson in charge of the artistic director of the Cervantes Theatre, Jorge de Juan. This is the first Spanish-speaking theatre in the history of British theatre and its associate director called for the United Kingdom and Spain to consolidate «the strong ties that have always existed between our two communities.»

“At the Cervantes Theatre, now more than ever, we have to continue spreading our culture and our language, which continues to grow and is studied by British students more than ever. We want to be the gateway for many young Spaniards and Latin Americans who want to continue dreaming of a better future in a country they admire for their history and their people,” said De Juan.

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