Spanish King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia begin their state visit to Britain today, Wednesday, 12th July, 2017, it has been reported.
The three-day visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia is the first to the UK by the Spanish royal family since 1986, and was agreed before the Brexit referendum result.
It was then deferred twice, first due to the extended negotiations in Spain in March 2016 to form a new government, then by a deferral by Britain due to Theresa May’s decision to call a general election.
The two countries continuously attempt to strengthen ties despite tensions over Britain’s plans to leave the European Union and the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
The visit was delayed twice, once, while Spanish politicians formed a new government and again last month because Britain held a snap general election.
The Spanish royals will be greeted on Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth II — a distant cousin of Felipe — with a ceremony in central London.
Spanish politicians, including the foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, are accompanying the king and queen.
Ana Romero, author and former royal correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, said the visit is the “jewel of the crown” of the king’s calendar.
Prince Harry, in his first involvement in a state visit, will take the royal couple around Westminster Abbey, after which the Spanish king is due to address both parliaments; where he could follow in his father’s footsteps and talk about Gibraltar — although the political landscape has somewhat changed since 1986.
At the time, King Juan Carlos said the sovereignty of the British territory was “the only thing that separates us”.
It is being argued that talks on post-Brexit rights for 300,000 UK citizens in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK are being conducted at the EU level in Brussels, and therefore need not be raised at length during the state visit.
But the Gibraltar dispute, a roadblock in Anglo-Spanish relations further complicated by Brexit, will be unavoidable. Its status is largely a bilateral issue, and Felipe has previously described the British claim to the Rock as an historical throwback.
The UK ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, said ahead of the visit: “We are not going to negotiate a solution that is against the interest of the people of Gibraltar. Our position has been very clear. The important thing is to talk about the practical issues and interests we all have in common.” He said the priority was to safeguard the working rights of the approximately 7,000 Spaniards who make the daily crossing to work in Gibraltar.
The vast majority of Gibraltarians voted to remain, fearing a loss of access to the EU if there was a vote for Brexit.
However, the Spanish government has insisted it will not stop a wider Brexit deal over Gibraltar, which it regards primarily as bilateral issue, but it has a bargaining card it can play.