Interview with Simon Manley, British Ambassador to Spain

Nick Gibbs

  • This interview with British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, was held on the 10th of August 2016.
  • Knowing how many of our resident readers are at their busiest during August, we felt it better to wait until the close season to publish.
  • Also attending the interview British Consul, Lloyd Milen.

NG: What brings you to Ibiza?

SM: As the Ambassador to Spain, and of course that is what I am, not the Ambassador to Madrid, it is important to get out and see the teams at all of our consulate offices.

Ibiza, as with many other Spanish consulates, is at its busiest during August and this year will be a record year for work through the consulate.

I will also be visiting the local authorities, which is again important in maintaining relationships and also to discuss any concerns, for instance at the moment security, helping to ensure tourists particularly take care and sensible precautions to look after themselves.

NG: Interesting that you use that expression, look after themselves, reading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publications such as ’victims of crime’, ’rape and sexual assault abroad’, the language feels both paternal and maternal in some measure. Do you view the Embassy’s role in that way?

SM: Sure, yes, we are here to look out for all British citizens and some of that is about giving basic but sound advice.

NG: In that respect, is Ibiza your problem child?

SM: (laughs) No, no, certainly not. We don’t have a problem child. In fact we want more involvement and co-operation with the people in all areas of Spain. We have an interesting project underway in Alicante where we are working with one of the resident associations of ex-pats and we have asked them ‘what has helped you, what has made it easier to live in Spain and integrate with the local community?’.

In asking those who feel most integrated and comfortable in their Spanish lives how they have achieved that position, we have had some very useful feedback.

People tell us of the importance of research in where you want to live, of visiting out of season for instance. It is also about getting the right legal advice before buying property, about learning Spanish.

Once here it is about working through the steps needed for integration, getting on the Padrón, things like that. And really the same things apply if you are only coming here for a few days. Make sure your driving licence is in order, that you have your EHIC card and ideally additional private medical insurance. And also taking sensible precautions to keep safe and avoid becoming a target for crime.

We are launching a campaign today about keeping your passport safe. The majority of the work here in Ibiza is that single issue, people who have lost their passport or had it stolen.

Simon Manley (left) with Lloyd Milen, the British Consul. Photo:

NG: Is the Embassy’s line that people should carry their passport at all times? I think that is still the official requirement in Spain, but it seems counter intuitive to the concept of keeping it safe.

SM: Well, we advise that you keep it safe. Keep it safe in your room. If you do take it down to the beach make sure it is somewhere safe. It is a real problem. Looking at all the work undertaken by the various consulates the issue of emergency travel documents stands out as a real spike in the statistics. This is particularly noticeable in Ibiza and Mallorca.

It is not just a case of being a pain, to have to come along to the consulate and meet our lovely team, it is about the financial consequences, and missing out on the holiday you came here to enjoy. The message is to come to Spain, have a good time, but keep safe doing so.

NG: You used the expression ‘having a good time’, and we cannot hide from the fact Ibiza does have a certain reputation as far as excess is concerned. Do you think we get unfairly represented in the media? If so, do you think the Embassy has a role in helping to redress that?

SM: Ibiza has its natural beauty and a fantastic climate, but yes its reputation and its success is built to some extent on that party island lifestyle.

We are not here to be a nanny state, to stop people having a good time. We want people to enjoy themselves. All we are saying is that there are ways of having a good time, and you won’t do that if you don’t take steps to keep safe.

NG: Understood, but I am thinking more about how that is represented in the media. By example prior to our meeting I ran a fairly unscientific search in Google news. In the last 7 days I counted 164 separate salacious news stories referencing Ibiza, and 4 for the entire rest of Spain. Do you think anything can be done to correct that disparity?  There is a view among the resident community that the Ibizan authorities often facilitate the feeding frenzy with ill considered statements. Is there a role for education in how to consider the implications of what they do in relation to how it will be manipulated by the British tabloid press, who are after all publishing to their key tourist market?  

SM: We work very closely with the Guardia Civil, with local authorities and others. We work with them to try and promote responsible tourism. We can work closely with the clubs for instance. And we want to promote people having a good time, but without excess. I think that is their responsibility.

It is in the tourist industry’s interest that the product they promote is an attractive one. That is a shared responsibility between us, between local authorities, and with the industry itself.


NG: Brexit. It almost feels as if it is a waste of our time to talk about it as I feel sure the only response you can give is one of wait and see. But that said, people do have genuine concerns as to a future without European Union membership. What can you say at this stage?

SM: Brexit has not been triggered by the British government yet and then we have a period of two years to negotiate our future relations with EU states.

I am convinced that when it comes to Spain our relationship will only get stronger. This will give us an opportunity to sit down and talk about issues which affect both Britons in Spain and Spaniards in the UK and get a much better deal for both sides.

Health care is a main worry and there are two main worries. Firstly, people want to know that they will still have access to medical care once the UK has left the EU. Secondly, what are the alternatives? At the moment, free health care in Spain for registered British residents is part of an EU regulation and the costs are either covered by the British government in a reciprocal agreement or by some 200 million euros raised by the EU health card. That is all controlled by an EU framework, so that is obviously something we are going to have to address and decide whether we want to continue with a European-wide system or negotiate bilateral agreements with individual countries.

That said, in the meantime I would recommend all Britons living permanently in Spain to register with their local town hall and make sure they are entitled to all the corresponding state services because, sooner or later, they are going to require some kind of help. Especially older people who may need social assistance. But thanks to the great consular team we have here in Spain, we are doing our best to keep people informed of all developments via our various digital platforms. We are also here to try and answer any questions or ease any fears.
We are embarking on a complex process, we are entering uncharted waters, but we need to all work together to come up with practical solutions, and Spain and the UK have extremely close ties. Apart from the UK being Spain’s largest tourism market, both countries have important economic ties. Investment is continuing to flow in both directions and we are working hard to make sure that we continue doing business together.

NG: I read on the website that there are some Q&A sessions being held with residents?

Yes absolutely. We are rolling these out all over Spain. We are all in this together. We need to know what the concerns are, and it is my job as Ambassador to convey the breadth of the concerns in the British community living in Spain back to the Government in London.

NG: Before meeting I put a request out for any particular questions people would like to ask you. I have to concede the vast majority were pretty unhelpful, but then you probably have not heard of ‘Ibiza Winter Residents’, (I didn’t wait for a reply), but there was one comment I would like to pass on which came from Billy O’Rafferty.  He said “I would very much appreciate if you could pass on how grateful I was for the kind and compassionate service offered to me in December when my best friend committed suicide. The vice consul could not have been kinder and more understanding ,her advice on everything was spot on and she even made me a very comforting cup of tea. In an age where service delivery is rarely taken seriously especially over the Christmas holiday period the British Vice Consul exceeded my expectations with a first class extremely professional service for which I shall always be most grateful”.

Does that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside?

SM: Yes it does rather. It is very sweet of the gentleman to say that. I will pass it on to the staff here.

You know if asked what is the highlight of my career, you might think it would be some ceremonial aspect, but actually it is a similar situation of a very personal involvement. When I was working in counter-terrorism, involved in the negotiation of the release of some hostages. The moment when the relatives of the hostages  heard that news that they had been released, they were with me in the office, that was a very special moment, very emotional actually.

We are very grateful to Simon Manley for his time.

After the interview we talked with the British Consul Lloyd Milen, who told us there would be a residents Brexit Q&A  in Ibiza in the Autumn, further details to follow.


The Madrid Embassy is now housed within the  Torre Espacio skyscraper


  • Simon Manley has been a member of HM Diplomatic Service since 1990. He took up post as British Ambassador to Spain and non-resident Ambassador to Andorra on 28 October 2013.
  • Before his posting to Madrid, Simon was Director Europe at the FCO (2011-2013), responsible for policy toward the EU, the UK’s bilateral relations with its European partners, and the FCO’s network of 57 European posts and more than 2000 staff. He served previously as the FCO’s Director Defence and Strategic Threats (2008-2011), leading the Government’s international counter-terrorist, counter-proliferation and counter-narcotics efforts, as head of Counter-Terrorism Policy (2006-2008) and as head of the EU Economic, Central Europe and Ireland department (2002-2006).
  • He has been posted to the UK’s Mission to the United Nations in New York (1993-1998), where he worked on Yugoslavia and UN reform, and has twice been seconded to the European Union: to the European Commission (2003), working on State Aids policy, and to the Council of the EU (1998-2002), working on Russia and Ukraine and then East Asia.
  • Simon was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in HM The Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2009 and a Commander of the Polish Order of Merit in 2004.
  • Simon read Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford and International Relations at Yale University Graduate School. He is married to Maria Isabel Fernandez Utges Manley, an IP, competition and regulatory lawyer. They have three daughters: Chiara (2000), Melissa (2001) and Natasha (2008).

Posts Held in The Foreign Office

  • 2013 Present: Madrid, Her Majesty’s Ambassador
  • 2011 – 2013 FCO, Director Europe
  • 2007 – 2011 FCO, Director Defence & Strategic Threats
  • 2006 – 2007 FCO, Head, Counter Terrorism Policy Department
  • 2003 – 2006 FCO, Head, EU Economic, Ireland & Central Europe Team
  • 2002 – 2003 FCO, Head, EU (Internal) Department
  • 1998 – 2002 Seconded to the EU Council Secretariat’s Asia Unit
  • 1993 – 1998 New York, Second, later First Secretary (Political), UK Mission to the United Nations
  • 1993 Seconded to DG Competition, European Commission
  • 1990 – 1993 FCO, United Nations Department
  • 1990 Joined FCO