Hunt for optimism

Hunt for optimism

The chancellor’s economic plans for growth require a good dose of optimism, a dollop of delusion and some rose-tinted spectacle

Sue Wilson MBE bySue Wilson MBE

On Friday morning, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined his economic plans for growth to a business audience in London. In his first major speech since the Autumn statement in November, he promised to use “Brexit freedoms” to boost economic growth in the UK.

According to Hunt, Britain is “poised to play a leading role in Europe and across the world” and the government’s plan for growth “is necessitated, energised and made possible by Brexit”. All that’s required is a good dose of optimism, a dollop of delusion and some rose-tinted spectacles.

Not all doom and gloom

Hunt criticised the media for suggesting that Britain is facing an “existential crisis” and “teetering on the edge”. The “gloom” being expressed about our country’s economic outlook was “based on statistics that do not reflect the whole picture”. Statistics, it seems, can only be relied upon when they support the story that the government is trying to peddle. In a desperate attempt to find some evidence of growth during the government’s time in power, Hunt could only state that the UK had “grown faster than France, Japan and Italy” by going back to 2010.

Without a hint of irony, Hunt suggested that “confidence in the future starts with honesty about the present”. Not sure when, exactly, that honesty about Brexit is expected to start, but there certainly was little to be found in this speech. Or any mention of so-called Brexit benefits.

When challenged to concede that Brexit was causing problems for business, Hunt admitted there had been some “short term disruption”, but said it was wrong to focus on those issues “without looking at the opportunities”. Whether business owners are cognisant of those unidentified opportunities, or would agree that three years of disruption could be classed as ‘short term’, is another matter altogether.

Hunt’s cunning plan

The plans for growth seem to rely on three things, all supposedly made possible by Brexit and based on “British genius” and “hard work”. The first – “restraint on spending” – effectively means £100bn being cut from government spending over the next two years. But balancing the Treasury budget does not equate to balancing the economy – or levelling-up, for that matter – and public services need investment, not further cuts.

Then we have Hunt’s plan to turn the UK into “the world’s next Silicon Valley”. Not exactly a new idea, and we’re hardly overrun with recent examples of entrepreneurial success. Hunt also aims to exploit “the freedoms which Brexit provides” and raise productivity levels. As with all other elements of his cunning plan, the details of how and when were left entirely to our imaginations.

The reaction

If Hunt was expecting wide coverage for his speech, he was to be disappointed. The leading business channel in Europe – CNBC – didn’t even bother to cover it.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) highlighted the failure to announce detailed proposals as a lack of “meat on the bones of his vision”. The BCC also drew attention to the fact that energy costs and exports had not been mentioned. Although Hunt’s plan was a start, they said, we have moved “no further forward”. They ended their response by suggesting that the chancellor read the BCC’s own business manifesto “for realistic policies to help get back to growth”.

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, agreed with Hunt that the UK has “so much potential”. Unsurprisingly, she claimed only her party could seize the opportunities and pointed out the economic failings of the last 13 years of Tory government.

Sarah Olney, the LibDems Treasury spokesperson, compared the chancellor’s comments to “an unfaithful partner asking for yet another chance”, adding “why should we trust them again?” Why indeed! The government’s record, she added, was “nothing less than a shambles” and the public would see through this “desperate attempt” to rewrite history.

On the government website, Hunt’s speech is described as “his vision for long-term prosperity in the UK”. A long-term view will be of little comfort to those feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis right now. Or to businesses suffering from additional red tape and expense thanks to Brexit. Considering that the Conservatives are likely to be kicked out of power next year makes such claims rather pointless. No wonder so few bothered to pay much attention.

Collins English dictionary defines optimism as “the feeling of being hopeful about the future or about the success of something in particular”. Not for the first time, we are being asked by the government to ignore reality and be optimistic about our country’s future. We are being entreated to believe in the cult of Brexit, despite all the evidence of economic damage and the government’s own appalling record of management. It might have worked six years ago. It might even have worked three years ago. It won’t work now.

Open letter to Truss #3 – October 2022

Open letter to Truss #3 – October 2022

by Sue Wilson MBE

Dear Liz,

Since our earlier correspondence, (December 2021 and January 2022) it’s good to see that you have finally ditched the multiple hats and roles in favour of focussing on just one job. The big one. I guess I should start by offering my congratulations, but as you have been under-performing so spectacularly, that wouldn’t seem appropriate under the circumstances.

Given that you have only been in the job such a short amount of time, (is it really only a month? – it seems so much longer), I have held off from writing until now. Let’s wait until after the party conference, I told myself, and give her a chance to turn this thing around and show us what she’s got. Sadly, it seems, we had already seen the best you had to offer. Though frankly, you and I had far more in common before the dreaded (don’t worry, I won’t mention the ‘B’ word) referendum.

So, let me get to the reason for my missive. I am writing to complain. I appreciate this will not come as a surprise as I imagine the vast majority of your correspondence is made up of complaints of some description. In addition, in light of your recent party conference speech, the list of those with genuine reasons for complaint has increased exponentially.

It seems that the list of your supposed enemies has expanded considerably, and we all share a shiny new label. Not only is the previous insult de jour of “Remainer” no longer in vogue but now I’m a “Br*x*t denier” and a member of the “anti-growth coalition”! At least your name calling is not limited to us pro-Europeans. It now also applies to Labour, the unions, environmentalists, think tanks and talking heads.

I’m sure if you, or your script writers had taken just a bit of time, you could have swept up a lot more supposed enemies in that meaningless list. After all, considering the state of your party at the moment, surely you could have included a few disloyal backbenchers in your catalogue of reprobates.

Of course, there will always be a ready supply of useful idiots, like Nadhim Zahawi, to defend your nonsense, and I can live with that. After all, when you fall, you’ll be taking a lot of them with you. Even your former candidate for the top job, Tom Tugendhat, has been waffling on about growth in your defence. Apparently, growth grows opportunities, lives and futures, and you are right to be focussing on delivering it for everyone. Well, everyone except the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the needy etc., etc. Well, speaking as a non-economist, non-expert I can assure you that is complete “bollocks”, as we’ve been saying about Br*x*t (enter six letter word beginning with ‘Br*’ and ending with ‘x*t’ here).

To your credit, I don’t doubt for one minute that you believe all this rhetorical horse manure you are spouting, even in the face of ample evidence to the contrary. Certainly, the Bank of England doesn’t believe it, nor the financial markets. But I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as you are still relatively new at this game. After all, it’s only a maximum of two years until the country decides on our next PM, rather than a few thousand elderly, white, wealthy right-wingers. Assuming, of course, that your party doesn’t decide before that to give another ERG supporter a go at running the country.

Another complaint, before I toddle off to count what’s left of my diminishing state pension. Could you please instruct your cabinet and ministers to stop pretending that this is a brand-new government. Anyone would think you were trying to suggest there has been a different party/government running things for the last 12 years. As the longest serving member of the Conservative government that is currently in power, and has been for over a decade, I’m sure you will agree. After all, there is so much (not!) to take credit for.

Finally, could we please stop with the three-word soundbites and slogans like the irritating “getting Britain moving” nonsense. Laxative commercials have had more convincing slogans. As for answering questions, let me be very clear (see what I did there?) – your stock answers are now so familiar that there’s really no point giving any more interviews. The whole country can predict how you will respond with considerably more accuracy than you can predict the economy or public opinion.

Despite your protestations that you are “listening” and you “get it”, I’m afraid I remain (no pun intended) sceptical. I don’t believe you have a “clear plan” (unless you mean one that you can see through), I don’t believe your party has the “determination to deliver” or that you can “unleash the full potential of our great country”.

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t think you do either. So, why not save us all two years more nonsense and go for the mandate from the country you already claim to have. Call an election. Put your money – rather than ours for a change – where your mouth is. If you don’t mind me finishing with one of your own quotes, “that is how we will build a new Britain for a new era”. You know it makes sense, and I’m sure, in the end, you’ll be only too glad to see the back of that wallpaper when you are “moving on up” and out!

Yours hopefully,

Sue Wilson MBE

Covid Updates – Spain

Covid Updates – Spain

​After two difficult years, and with the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, Spain has relaxed most of the Covid safety measures. However, it is still important to keep up to date with any restrictions that remain in place nationally, locally and when travelling.

As and when any national changes are announced, you can read about them here. You might also find the following links useful for further information:

  • View the latest Covid figures for Spain from Worldometers here
  • Sign up to RadarCOVID Spain for alerts re contact here
  • When travelling, use the Spain Travel Health app here

Please continue to be vigilant, observe any Covid safety measures and stay safe!


Check back with us regularly for the LATEST NEWS updates re: changes to safety measures, travel arrangements and much more.


20 April: Face masks no longer required in most indoor settings

Effective immediately, face masks will no longer be required indoors under most circumstances. The changes – first announced on April 6 – were confirmed by Spain’s Council of Ministers on April 19.

Masks are still required indoors under the following circumstances:

  • In hospitals and other health-related establishments, e.g. dental clinics, pharmacies
  • In care homes, for both visitors and staff
  • On public transport

In work places, the employer will decide whether face masks are required.

The health service advise the public to continue to exercise “common sense” and “caution”.

6 April: Health Control Form no longer required for all visitors to Spain

The Spanish Government has changed the rules regarding the Health Control Form used by travellers entering Spain. It is no longer required that all passengers complete one on arrival.

Passengers will now simply have to show an EU Digital Covid Certificate or an equivalent from a non-EU country. It is recommended, however, that before you travel you check your certification is valid for entry. You can do so on the Spain Travel Health website.

Read the official government bulletin here

10 February: Masks no longer required outdoors

​Mask wearing outdoors is no longer required, except in the following circumstances:

  • At large outdoor events where attendees are required to stand
  • At large outdoor events where attendees are seated but are not able to maintain a safe distance of 1.5 metres
  • Use of masks is still recommended in crowds

Further details are available in the official Royal Decree (BOE) here

23 December: New Covid restrictions re mask wearing outdoors

A special cabinet meeting was held today to approve mandatory outdoor mask wearing in a bid to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. The decision was made at a virtual meeting on 22 December with regional heads of government. It followed concerns regarding the recent rise in case numbers, reaching the highest daily figures since the pandemic began. Experts are warning that the new measures alone are “insufficient” in the fight to flatten the curve of infections. The new measures will take effect on Christmas Eve. You can watch the official announcement from the Ministry of Health here.

Exceptions to the new mask-wearing rules include:  when practicing sports; when in “natural spaces” such as the countryside or beach; when alone; when maintaining a distance of 1.5 meters.

The armed forces will be used to aid the vaccination programme and contact tracing. PM Pedro Sánchez insists that vaccinations and boosters remain the best tool against the virus.

As at 21 December, Spain has the 3rd best vaccination record in Europe, with 80.9% of its population fully vaccinated. The UK, by comparison, vaccinated 69.1% of the population over the same period.

For live data tracking of European vaccinations, click here

Read more on this story in El Pais here

Read Spanish Ministry of Health Covid information, including travel advice and vaccine certification here

1 December: New travel restrictions Brits travelling to Spain

With immediate effect, visitors from the UK will now be required to prove they have been fully vaccinated in order to enter Spain. A negative Covid test will no longer be an alternative option.

The new vaccine requirements apply to anyone aged 12 and over. Under 12’s do not need vaccine certification, and can travel to Spain with fully vaccinated parents. Fully vaccinated means either having received “both doses of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of a one-dose vaccine”, at least 14 days prior to travel to Spain.

Certificates of recovery, a medical document proving you have recovered from Covid-19 in the last six months, are also no longer acceptable.

As the 12-15 year age group are only now being offered a second vaccine in the UK, the new rules will prevent them from visiting Spain for the next few weeks, and certainly for Christmas.

Spain accepts the NHS Covid pass.

The requirement for all visitors to complete a Spanish Travel Health Form remains in place.

If you are planning to visit Spain, whether from the UK or elsewhere, you can view all the latest requirements on the Spanish Health Ministry website or on the British Government website.


Issued by the Spanish Embassy in London

25 June: Face mask restrictions to be lifted

On Thursday 24 June, the Cabinet held an extraordinary meeting to finalise the proposal regarding the wearing of face masks outdoors. The news came days after France and Germany also announced the relaxation of face mask rules.

Effective from Saturday 26 June, it will no longer be necessary to wear face masks in outdoor spaces, except when it is impossible to maintain a safe 1.5 metre distance.

The proposed change was originally announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at a press interview on June 18 – you can listen to the announcement here

Sanchez said, “Our streets, our faces, will begin to regain their normal appearance in the coming days”.

For more on this story, read El Pais here


9 May: Spain’s State of Alarm comes to an end

As the national state of alarm comes to an end, many of the national covid restrictions will be lifted. Spain’s regions are still determining what measures will be lifted and which retained.

Restrictions likely to affected include:

  • lifting of curfews
  • opening of borders across the provinces
  • longer opening hours for shops
  • eating indoors at bars & restaurants permitted
  • numbers of people you are allowed to meet to increase

Regional authorities will need support from the courts for further measures to remain in place.

For further information, including covid measures by region, read El Pais article here


16 APRIL: ‘Digital Green Certificate’ – EU’s vaccine passport – to come into force in June

By the end of June, travellers arriving in Spain with the new EU vaccine passport will no longer be required to take a Covid test or to quarantine.

The new document will come in the form of a free QR code (in digital and physical form) and will allow more people to travel “in a safer manner”, said Alfredo González, the general secretary of Digital Health, Information and Innovation. He added, “This certificate is not a passport, it’s not a travel document, and it’s not a requirement for travel. It’s a mechanism that will facilitate mobility in the European Union. It will respect data protection, safety and privacy. It is planned so that it will not be discriminatory, and that is one of the major advantages.” 

The plan is part of the government’s strategy for this year, during which the authorities are forecasting that 40 million foreign visitors will arrive.

For more on this story, from El Pais, read the full article here

Read more about the EU’s Digital Green Certificate here


31 MARCH: Stricter face mask rules introduced

Face coverings in public spaces are now mandatory, regardless of the distance between people. The Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE) published yesterday requires anyone aged six and over to wear a face mask “on public streets, in outdoor spaces and in any closed space that has a public use or is open to the public”.

Previously, it was only necessary to wear a mask in public and outdoor spaces when it was not possible to maintain a safe distance of 1.5 metres. For further information:

  • Read the official BOE here
  • Read updated information on the Spanish government website here
  • Read more on this story in El Pais here

3 MARCH: Vaccination Strategy update

The Spanish authorities have issued an updated vaccination strategy detailing when priority groups can expect to be vaccinated. The government website includes many links and documents, and the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).

  • For further information, click on the government website here
  • For FAQS, click here
  • For further links and documents, click here

JANUARY 25: Covid 19 restrictions updated by region

As infections soar across the country, many regional authorities have announced new safety restrictions. The national government has so far resisted the call to reintroduce a national lockdown, arguing that the new highly-localised restrictions are sufficient.

The Ministry of Health has published in interactive map that allows you to check the restrictions in place in your area.

Read more on this story in The Local here and in El Pais here.


DECEMBER 10: Spain relaxes the Covid test requirements for air passengers to allow for TMA tests

From today, arrivals at Spanish airports will be able to present results of a Transcription-Mediated Amplification (TMA) test, as an alternative to a PCR test. The TMA option is in response to complaints that the PCR are more expensive, and results take longer.

A negative test, of either kind – taken in the 72 hours prior to travel – must be presented on arrival. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to 6000 euros.

Read more on this story in El Pais here

Read the official Ministry of Health press release here


DECEMBER 4: Regulations & recommendations on celebrating Christmas this year

Health Minister, Salvador Illa, has announced rules & recommendations for a safe Covid-free Christmas. Between 23rd December & 6th January movement between autonomous communities is limited, except for grouping of family & friends.


  • On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, News Years Eve & New Years Day, meetings will be restricted to 10 people (including children)
  • Curfew on Christmas Eve & New Years Eve will be extended to 1.30 am.
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Some autonomous communities may enforce stricter measures, so check with your local authorities.

A good source of information for regional updates is the N332 Road Safety Association – view their Facebook page here

For more on this story read El Pais here

NOVEMBER 12: Travellers will need a negative PCR test result before arrival in Spain

From Monday 23 November, the Spanish government will require passengers arriving from at-risk countries to provide proof of a negative PCR test before allowing their entry into Spain. The test must be taken no more than 72 hours before departure & will only apply at airports, not at land borders.

The measure – which will affect most EU countries – will apply to over 60 countries worldwide that have high infection rates.  Further details of countries affected will be available shortly.

For EU/EEA countries, the authorities will use data provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control – you can view their ‘risk map’ here

For other countries, the restrictions will apply to countries with an infection rate of over 150 in 100,000.

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You can read the full press release from the Ministry of Health here

To read more on this story, see the article in El Pais here

OCTOBER 30: Most Spanish regions set to close borders ahead of All Saints weekend

With the exception of Extremadura, Galicia & the Canary Islands, all Spanish regions have announced plans to close their borders before the holiday weekend. The closures will limit travel across the country, in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

To interact with a map of Spain for further information, visit La Sexta here

For more on this story, read the article in El Pais here

The situation is very fluid at present, so please check in regularly for the latest updates

Map 29-10-20

OCTOBER 30: Congress votes to extend ‘state of alarm’ until 9 May 2021

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a new ‘state of alarm’ & his intention to seek parliament’s approval to extend it for six months. Today, following a two-day debate, Congress has voted for that extension.

The ‘state of alarm’ will enable regional governments to enforce the new curfew and mobility restrictions.

For further information, read the article in Spain in English here

Spanish Parliament

OCTOBER 25: Prime Minister approves a new state of alarm

The Spanish Cabinet have approved a new national state of alarm, providing a legal framework for regional authorities to curb public mobility. In a bid to combat the spread of Covid, socialising at night will be restricted.

Although the measures are initially for 15 days, the government has made clear its intention to keep them in place until April 2021.

The new restrictions are:

  • A curfew from 23.00 to 6.00 daily (with flexibility to add/subtract 1 hour either way)
  • Travel restrictions between regions, unless justified

For the full story, read El Pais here

To view the press statement from President Pedro Sánchez, visit the government Facebook page here

    Spanish Gov

    OCTOBER 23: New Covid measures put in place across 2214 municipalities

    Due to the rise in infection rates, new restrictions are being put in place in many towns and municipalities across the country. The restrictions, which will affect areas with 500+ new cases per 100,000 population, over the last 14 days, will include curfews and “perimeter confinement”.

    For further information, and to identify areas affected, click here.

    You can also find information relating to specific areas, on the Road Safety Association Facebook page.

    Read articles in El Pais covering the following topics:

    • 7 million Spanish residents now facing perimetral lockdown here
    • Valencian Community, Andalusia & Castilla y León announce curfews here

    11 autonomous authorities are so concerned about rising infections they are calling on central government to declare a “State of Alert”. An urgent ministerial meeting is being convened by Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, on 25 October. Read more on this story in El Pais here

      Spain Map

      AUGUST 25: Autonomous regions can request ‘state of alert’; contract tracing support from military & government app

      • In a press conference today, Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez offered regional premiers the authority to request their own ‘state of alert’, firmly putting the authority back with the regions. Sánchez said the progress of the coronavirus curve was worrying and that it “needed to be tackled”.
      • In Catalonia and Madrid – two of the worst affected areas for new cases – the Prime Minister has offered the support of the military to aid with contract tracing.
      • Regional authorities are being encouraged to roll out the use of a new contract tracing app, created by the government. If widely used by the public, the ‘Radar Covid’ app is expected to reduce the impact of the pandemic by 30%. The app does not require the supply of personal data, so personal privacy is protected.

      Sign up to the new app (currently available in Andalusia, Cantabria, Aragón & Extremadura):

      AUGUST 14: Health Minister announces new measures to curb the spread of the virus

      Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, today announced a ban on smoking in outside public spaces and closure of nightclubs, discos & music bars.

      Illa said that smoking is only allowed in open public spaces as long as a safe distance of 2 meters can be maintained.

      In hospitality premises, a minimum safe distance of 1.5 metres must be maintained at bars & tables, with a maximum of 10 people only at each table.

      All establishments, including bars and restaurants, will have to close at 1:00 am & no new patrons will be allowed entry after midnight.

      AUGUST 7: Guidance for wearing masks

      The Spanish government has issued advice about wearing masks, in order to keep the population safe from coronavirus.

      Valencia Masks
      • Wash your hands first
      • Make sure your mask is in good condition
      • Wear the mask the right way round:
        • Metal strip at the top
        • Coloured side on the outside
      • Make sure to cover your nose, mouth & chin
      • Ensure the mask fits correctly, with no gaping
      • Don’t touch the mask while wearing (except for the straps)
      • Replace mask after a maximum of 4 hours wear

      JULY 18: Wearing of masks now mandatory in the Valencian Community

      Following the example set by many other Spanish regions, the wearing of masks became mandatory today in the Valencian Community. The decision was taken due to the four-fold increase in the number of infections of 20 to 40-year olds.

      Masks will be compulsory at all time, with the following exceptions:

      • on the beach or in a swimming pool
      • in outdoor areas such as the countryside or the mountains
      • in bars & restaurants
      • for those with respiratory problems
      • whilst taking part in sports activities
      Valencia Masks
      Valencia Masks

      JULY 14: Many Spanish regions implement mandatory face coverings

      A number of regional governments are making the wearing of face masks compulsory in public spaces. The following regions have either made face coverings mandatory or are about to:

      • Aragón, Asturias, Cantabria, Navarre, La Rioja, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Extremadura, Andalusia & Murcia

      In the Valencia region, the option is being seriously considered – a decision will be reached shortly.

      For more on this story, read El Pais:


      June 30: Spain prepares to open its borders

      As part of reciprocal arrangements between the European Union & 15 other countries, Spain will open its borders from July 1.

      The named countries have been selected based on the epidemiological situation in each country, which must have a similar or lower contagion rate than the European average for every 100,000 inhabitants for 14 days. 

      The named countries are: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Japan, Georgia, Morocco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. China will also be included, but only if visitors from the EU receive reciprocal treatment.

      For more on this story, read El Pais:


      June 21: All of Spain enters the ‘New Normality’

      The ‘state of alert’ has officially ended after 24 weeks of lockdown measures. Whilst many restrictions have been removed, 4 essential rules remain:

      • Social distancing of 1.5 meters
      • Compulsory wearing of face masks when social distancing measures cannot be maintained
      • Hand washing/sanitising
      • Hygiene in public & private spaces

      Travel between provinces is now allowed, and travel from EU countries/UK is now permitted, without quarantine, with the exception of Portugal (to follow shortly).

      June 21: Brits can visit Spain without quarantine

      Spain’s Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez, has announced that with immediate effect, British citizens can travel to Spain from today, without facing quarantine measures. British visitors will need to:

      • Provide contact information & any history of Covid exposure
      • Undergo a temperature check & a visual health assessment

      For full travel details re Spain, checkout this EU webpage, updated in real time – use the icons on the right to scroll around transport options:

      Currently this decision is a unilateral one, & we await confirmation regarding quarantine measures for Brits returning from Spain to the UK.


      Read more on this story in El Pais here:


      Spanish Department of Health travel page has useful travel/health information about including the online travel form:

      Worldometers monitor the number of cases & death tolls, by country:

      Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 death toll projections for Spain:

      For updates about the lockdown rules – Boletín Oficial del Estado:

      The Spanish government website has all the latest news from Spain, in English:

      N322 Road Safety Association has a wealth of information about lockdown measures on their Facebook page:

      European Commission coronavirus home page:

      WHO specific information on Spain:

      WHO specific information on UK:

      Spanish Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs & Social Welfare:

      Spanish Ministry of the Environment:

      UK Foreign Office travel advice for Spain:

      Brits in Spain (British Embassy in Madrid) Facebook Page:

      Brits in Spain website:

      Ukrainians in Spain

      Ukrainians in Spain

      The crisis is Ukraine has been at the forefront of our minds since the war began over a month ago, writes Bremain Chair Sue Wilson MBE for The Olive Press. In particular, the plight of Ukrainian refugees has seen the governments and the peoples of Europe open their hearts, minds and wallets to help those in desperate need.

      In an effort to understand what more could be done to help, and what motivated people to provide support, funding or even accommodation, I spoke to some of those affected.

      I met Anastasia Ka and her 11 year old daughter in my home town of Alcossebre.  She had flown into Spain from Poland, having travelled from her home in Lviv. Her parents decided to stay in Ukraine. “They didn’t feel safe, but they did feel comfortable”, Anastasia told me. From the start of the war, life was different. The experience of having to move to safety underground every time a government alert was received – sometimes several times a day, or night – became too much for Anastasia. It was impossible to sleep, to wash her hair, to work or to study. However, Anastasia did manage to volunteer for the Red Cross at the railway station, helping people and their pets to leave. Worried for her daughter, despite it being “difficult to leave the motherland”, she travelled to Poland to start her journey.

      As Lviv is a tourist town, and thanks to Anastasia’s intervention, those safety alerts are now in five languages, to keep all in Lviv safe, regardless of nationality. On life in Spain, Anastasia told me, “Everyone here asks me how I am. It is difficult to say “bien” or “good” when every day I hear bad news, bombs are going off and people are dying”. When I asked her what she thought would happen back home she said, “War has taught me not to think too much, not to make plans and to live every day like it’s your last”. Anastasia is making the most of the sun and being by the sea. But her dream is for peace to return and to be able to go home as soon as possible.


      Anastasia and her daughter have settled in Alcossebre

      Anastasia and her daughter have settled in Alcossebre

      Candace and David Edwards have donated beds, a travel cot, bedlinen, a high chair and a bag of towels to a group helping Ukrainian refugees in Nerja, as well as making a generous donation to charity. The Edwards have known 61 year old Tania, a Ukrainian/Russian woman, for the last 17 years, describing her as the hardest working person they know. Tania has a married son with two young children back in Ukraine. When war broke out, Tania’s granddaughter was in Germany with her mother, for special medical treatment. Tania’s son managed to get her grandson to the Polish border and he has been reunited with his mother and sister in Germany. However, Tania’s son had to return home to Zaporizhzhia, north-west of Mariupol, partly to fight, but also to support Tania’s disabled sister who is unable to leave. Tania is very concerned for her sister and her son, as soldiers were seen entering the town a few days ago. Candace told me, “I’ve been giving stuff away to Tania over the years to send on to her family in Ukraine. The whole situation is so desperately sad”. 

      On February 24, 39 year old Oksana Panchuk and her 11 year old son were woken by an explosion that shook the windows of their Kyiv apartment. A worried phone call from her parents told her “something incomprehensible” was happening and she should move to their home in Zhytomyr for safety. She started packing immediately. Many other Kyiv residents had the same idea, resulting in huge traffic jams and Oksana and her son having to abandon the car and walk 10 kilometres. After a week in Zhytomyr, it was clear that the war was spreading and civilians were being targeted. It was time to move on as “every night my son trembled with fear”.

      With relatives in Palma de Mallorca offering help, Oksana and her son got on a bus for Poland, where they were fed and able to rest. They teamed up with a family travelling to Barcelona, then took a ferry to Mallorca where they were met by relatives, who they stayed with initially. Until they found British Palma resident, Tracey O’Rourke, who offered them a room.

      Tracey (L) with Oksana and her son

      Tracey (L) with Oksana and her son

      While Oksana is grateful to feel safe, she is naturally worried about her family back home, who she calls every day. She said, “Every night I wake up and worry about the lives of my parents who stayed in Zhytomyr, my boyfriend who is in Kyiv.” She follows the daily news and “waits for this bloody tragedy to end”. Oksana wants to return home as soon as possible, to help rebuild her country. She added, “we don’t want another country, another life – we want our homeland back”.

      Tracey watched and listened to the Ukraine invasion, feeling powerless but determined to act. She felt a connection to the Ukrainian people, with her brother being a historian, a regular visitor to Ukraine and Russia, and her sister-in-law being from Vitebsk. She told me, “I am not simply a horrified observer – I know people in both countries”. When she read that Spain was welcoming fleeing families without visa applications, she made enquiries and started filling out forms. A contact in the Ukrainian church in Palma put her in touch with Oksana’s relatives, whose house was now full of other family members fleeing the war. Tracey said, “this was something practical and meaningful that I was in a position to do”, adding “God forbid, if I was ever in this situation myself, I would hope that someone would do the same for me”.

      If these personal stories have inspired you to find out more, or to want to help in any way, then check out the Bremain in Spain dedicated ‘Ukraine in Spain’ page here. On it you will find background information, a list of ways you can help Ukrainian refugees in Spain, plus links to organisations and charities providing much needed aid. Thank you!

      How Spain is outpacing the UK when it comes to women in politics

      How Spain is outpacing the UK when it comes to women in politics

      For over 100 years, International Women’s Day has celebrated women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements, writes Bremain Chair Sue Wilson MBE for Olive Press. In that time, the change in the way women are treated, or in the opportunities available to them, has been considerable. Yet in many important respects, women are still far from equal to their male counterparts in society, especially in the workplace.

      In politics in the modern world, we are becoming more used to seeing countries led by women. Many of those female leaders have been many particularly noteworthy and inspiring, especially during the pandemic. Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern and Ursula von der Leyen are amongst those that have stood out for their compassion, their strength, their intelligence and their determination. However, in terms of the total numbers of politicians, men still make up the vast majority at all political levels.

      Spain is leading the way in Europe with the largest number of women in parliament at close to 50%. In Cabinet, that number is even higher, with women taking the majority of ministerial roles, including that of Vice President. Not the top job yet though.

      In many respects, Spain is still clinging to its macho past. However, the government are making considerable efforts to change that, and judging by the representation of women in parliament, those efforts are working.

      By comparison, the UK is falling behind. Since 1918, there have only been a total of 558 female members of parliament. Until the end of 2016, there had been fewer women sitting in the House of Commons thoughout history than there were men sitting at any one time. 

      Although numbers have increased to the current high of 224, currently male MPs outnumber female MPs in the Commons almost two to one. In the House of Lords, the representation of women is even worse, with them making up less than 28% of the total (231 out of 829). In the Cabinet, at the highest levels of British government, that number drops to just 26%, with only six women in ministerial positions.

      Inequality for women in politics in Britain is also an issue of party. Adding together the opposition parties, almost 43% of positions are held by women. If you look at Labour on its own, that figure rises to 51%, with half of the Shadow Cabinet being female. By comparison, in the Conservative party, the figure drops to less than a third. Some parties, it would seem, are more equal than others.

      Inequality for women in politics in Britain is also an issue of party. Adding together the opposition parties, almost 43% of positions are held by women. If you look at Labour on its own, that figure rises to 51%, with half of the Shadow Cabinet being female. By comparison, in the Conservative party, the figure drops to less than a third. Some parties, it would seem, are more equal than others.

      As in Spain, British women make up just over half of the total UK population. Yet we are pitifully unrepresented in British politics and in British decision making. That said, we are not alone. Decisions being made by our government are not representative of the views of the majority of the British public, regardless of their sex. There’s a reason you no longer hear the once infamous cry of the “will of the people”. Even our government don’t try that lie on anymore. 

      As long as important decisions affecting the future of our country are being made by rich, middle-aged, white men, its not just women whose voices won’t be heard. Inequality comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. We must fight it in every form, at every opportunity, for the benefit of men and women alike.

      One year since Brexit …. still not ´done´

      One year since Brexit …. still not ´done´

      Bremain Chair Sue Wilson MBE takes a look back at the first year of Brexit in an article for The Olive Press:

      The festivities are behind us, and for good or bad, we “got Christmas done”. If only the same could be said for Brexit. Not only is Brexit not “done” but it appears to be rather different to the one the country was promised. It does not do what it says on the side of the tin, or in this case, on the side of a bus.

      I’m minded to write a letter to the government’s complaint department – yes, they do have one, I checked – but I think they might be rather overwhelmed at the moment dealing with other dissatisfied customers. Assuming, of course, that they are not all at a party, gathering or meeting.

      Whether you voted for or against leaving the EU, there are few that can be happy with the outcome. In fact, public opinion has shifted considerably over the last 12 months, with only 14% of the British public now thinking Brexit is going well. Farmers and fishermen are suffering buyers’ remorse, businesses are concerned about lack of investment and staff and a mountain of red tape, and prices are rising. That’s before the UK have even implemented full customs checks on EU imports. We have yet to see what a full-on Brexit will actually even look like. I think we can be sure it won’t be pretty.

      Still, new year, new day, and it’s not all bad news, right? As the first Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said back in October 2016, “there will be no downsides to Brexit at all, and considerable upsides”. He may have been proved slightly wrong about the downsides, but those upsides are SO worth it! Australian wine is going to be 20p a bottle cheaper to import, and who drinks European wine anyway? British fisherman will be able to catch more fish in five years time, assuming they haven’t gone out of business by then. A popular favourite will be the return of imperial measures. Not only will Brits be able to drink pints of beer out of pint glasses again (did they ever stop doing that?), but Champagne is going to be served in pint bottles! I’m not entirely sure the French have been told about this development as yet, but I’m sure they’ll be only too happy to change productions lines just for us. And let’s not forget blue/black passports – the first passport in history to reduce our ability to travel.

      Even those responsible for negotiating and implementing Brexit are not faring well. We’re already two Prime Ministers down, and the current incumbent’s position is looking a tad insecure. Then we have the Brexit Ministers – to lose one Brexit Secretary would have been bad enough. To lose four in five years is starting to look like carelessness. Or possibly, even the most devoted Brexit advocates just can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, no matter how much sovereignty they sprinkle on top.


      Withdrawal Agreement

      The latest development saw Lord Frost toddle off into the sunlit uplands/the House of Lords, perhaps to sign up for anger management classes. Frosty the No-Man has become Frosty the Go-Man, to be replaced by wearer of many hats, and many contradictory opinions, Liz Truss. As a former staunch Remainer, and even a Lib-Dem, we can only hope that Truss will take a less belligerent approach to Brexit negotiations, though first appearances would suggest otherwise. Still, in the spirit of New Year, I’d like to suggest a few resolutions she might wish to consider.

      Firstly, she could break the habit of her predecessors, learn how the EU functions, and stop treating our European neighbours as the enemy. The role of a negotiator or diplomat, is to be well, diplomatic. Another step forward would be to end the threats and honour international agreements the UK signed up to. The EU can hardly be blamed for Brexit failing to live up to the rose-tinted promises of many a PM and Brexit Minister.

      My biggest wish would be for the return of all that Brexit has stolen from us – our rights as EU citizens; our international standing and reputation for honesty, decency and tolerance; and a return to our place as a global economic power.

      Brexit isn’t done – it’s not even close. But it is bonkers – for the economy, for jobs, for prices and for business. Brexit was mis-sold, and the country would like its deposit back please.

      But it doesn’t have to be this way. A closer, more efficient, economically viable relationship with the EU is not only possible, it’s worth fighting for. I’ll be happy to raise a 0.473 glass of Champagne to that any day of the week! In the meantime, maybe it’s time to send off my letter of complaint and ask for my money back.