We want the British to stay here, says UK ambassador to Spain

The United Kingdom's ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, signaled at a gathering with Spanish media that the UK is determined to sort out the rights of Spanish citizens in the UK as well as those of British citizens living in Spain.

We want the British to stay here, says UK ambassador to Spain
The UK's ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley. File Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

“We want the Spanish to stay there and the British here. There is no more important issue than citizens in these negotiations,” Manley, referring to the Brexit negotiations, told reporters at the UK embassy in Madrid on July 6, according to El Pais.  

Approximately 130,000 Spanish citizens live in the UK while more than 300,000 British citizens live in Spain. Both demographic groups remain uncertain about their future residential rights as Britain and the EU continue to linger over the terms of the UK's departure from the EU. 

Manley stressed that the UK was keen for Spanish students and workers to be able to remain in the UK and for their residency rights to be sorted ASAP.

According to figures released by the British Council, more than 10,000 Spanish students are enrolled in higher education at UK universities. 

In a speech to the European Parliament on June 26, Theresa May had suggested that the more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK would have to apply for a residency card after the UK's formal departure from the European Union.

READ MORE: UK makes pension and healthcare pledge for British expats post-Brexit

The offer was widely dismissed as insufficient by EU politicians. Prime Minister May said a new category of foreign resident would be created for the proposed system. 

“I understand the frustration this can generate,” Ambassador Manley assured the gathered media on the rights of Spanish residents, “but we want them to stay. We are trying to develop a process for the future that will be as simple as possible,” he added.

Manley stressed that the UK government was willing to accommodate suggestions from Spain towards the creation of such a procedure. The new attitude suggests a softening and a u-turn on the part of the UK government following heavy EU criticism of Theresa May's initial post-Brexit offer for EU citizens. 

Ambassador Manley's comments come before the Spanish royal family is due to visit the UK on a state visit next week. 

Commenting on whether Spanish King Felipe VI could mention Gibraltar when addressing the UK parliament next week – like his predecessor King Juan Carlos I did in 1986 – Manley acknowledged that this was possible. The ambassador added that for a foreign head of state to address parliament “is something special” that only gets offered “to the most important and appreciated friends.” 

READ MORE: Eight reasons why Spain is very worried about Brexit

Discussing the controversial forthcoming Catalan secession referendum, Manley said it was an “issue for Spain” but said the case bore similarities with Scotland, according to Voz de Galicia



Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.