Both during the reception and at the press conference that followed, Andrew spoke of the warm and friendly welcome he had received from Menorca and how he wanted to learn more about the island’s integrated and active expat community, linked by a shared history that is still very much in evidence. A highlight of which has to be the first visit by the Red Arrows to Spanish territory in 2011, with a display over the Isla del Rey to commemorate the first British naval hospital built overseas, followed by the second visit in 2012. He enthused about the island’s tranquillity and its beauty, reminding him a little of the UK with its patchwork of fields. He could understand fully why so many British people fall in love with this fascinating Mediterranean island and was impressed by the dedication of its people to maintain its honorific biosphere status and ensure sustainable tourism for the future.
He spoke about the continued and guaranteed consular assistance in the Balearics and, in particular, Menorca, thanks to the ‘physical presence’ of Honorary Consul Deborah Hellyer, and emphasised the importance of the island which still has a high number of UK residents (approx 4,000 according to the latest official data) as well as being a favourite holiday destination. While acknowledging that today’s economic climate has contributed to the flow of British to the island being nowhere near to what it was 10 or 15 years ago, as well as more people being forced to leave to find work (not because they are unhappy living on the island), there are still Brits looking to make their home in Menorca. The crisis has also meant an increased demand for help from elderly expats facing financial difficulties and needing assistance or who are worried if they have medical coverage. As always in these instances, part of the consulate duties is to advise and direct them towards social services and local aid agencies.
On a personal note, Andrew admitted to having a passion for cycling and was interested to learn about the mountain bike rally taking place around the Camí de Cavalls last weekend and has promised to return in his own time to experience the joys of cycling in Menorca. He also said he would like to see the famous fiesta horses perform the ‘Jaleo’ at one of the island’s fiestas and visit the Isla del Rey in Mahón harbour to see the restoration work being carried out on the 18th century British military hospital. So, it seems Menorca has captivated Andrew Gwatkin and expats will not have to wait too long to welcome back their new British Consul, not just on but also off official duties.
Restructuring of the Foreign Office in Spain
The number of British Consuls within Spain was reduced at the end of 2012 and with this reshuffle the Balearic and Canary Islands lost their locally employed consuls and were integrated into larger areas. The Canary Islands are now looked after by the British Consul in Malaga, Steve Jones, and the Balearic Islands now fall under the leadership of Andrew Gwatkin, Consul General for Barcelona who has held this position for the past four years. He now has responsibility for a very large area including Catalonia, Aragon and Andorra, involving over 50,000 British citizens resident in the Balearic Islands and around 3.5 million British visitors to the islands each year. Andrew Gwatkin also oversees the regional office for UK Trade and Investment and has come from a background of banking in the UK, Ireland, Italy and Spain.
These changes see the British Consulate in Palma working with a “non resident” consul and, therefore, to share responsibilities and ensure efficiency a second Vice Consul, Elaine Brannan, has been appointed to work alongside existing Vice Consul Gillian Brion.