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WATCH: Spain’s King Felipe VI calls for Gibraltar dialogue in speech to UK parliament

Spanish King Felipe VI on Wednesday called for Britain and Spain to work towards an arrangement on the status of Gibraltar that would be "acceptable to everyone" in a speech to the British parliament.

WATCH: Spain's King Felipe VI calls for Gibraltar dialogue in speech to UK parliament
King Felipe gave an address at the Palace of Westminster. Photo: AFP

Felipe also called for a Brexit deal that would provide “stable living conditions” and “certainty” for hundreds of thousands of Spanish nationals living in Britain and Britons living in Spain.

Watch the entire speech by the 49-year-old Spanish king, delivered in impeccable English:

During the speech he paid tribute to those killed in recent terrorist acts, including Labour MP Joe Cox who was brutally murdered a year ago, PC Keith Palmer, the policeman killed in the Westminster Bridge attack and more recently, Spaniard Ignacio Echeverria, the skate-boarding hero who was killed in the London Bridge attack.

But rather than risk stirring tensions with a direct call to reclaim the sovereignty of Gibraltar, he spoke in a concillatory tone, expressing his confidence the two nations could overcome their “differences” over Gibraltar and find a solution “acceptable to all involved”.

He said: “It is just as true, however, that during our rich and fruitful history there have also been estrangements, rivalries and disputes, but the work and determination of our governments, authorities and citizens have relegated such events to the past.

“I am certain that this resolve to overcome our differences will be even greater in the case of Gibraltar and I am confident that through the necessary dialogue and effort, our two governments will be able to work towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved.”

He also couldn't avoid mention of Brexit, admitting that the situation “saddens” Spain but that it fully respected the result of last year's vote.

Felipe spoke about the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards living in Britain and Britons living in Spain, whose future hangs in the balance as Britain negotiates its withdrawal from the EU.

“These citizens have a legitimate expectation of decent and stable living conditions for themselves and for their families,” he said, calling for a deal that would provide “sufficient assurance” to them.

There are an estimated 300,000 British citizens living in Spain — the majority of them retirees — and around 116,000 Spaniards living in Britain.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May opposition Labour party Leader Jeremy Corbyn  ahead of a speech by Spanish King Felipe VI at the Palace of Westminster

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BRITS IN EUROPE

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.

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