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Queen speaks of ‘resilient spirit of cooperation and goodwill’ between UK and Spain

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II sought to sweep differences with Spain aside on Wednesday as she hosted a banquet for the country's King Felipe VI, just hours after he called for a deal on the status of Gibraltar.

Queen speaks of 'resilient spirit of cooperation and goodwill' between UK and Spain
King Felipe and Queen Elizabeth during the banquet at Buckingham Palace. All photos: AFP

“With such a remarkable shared history, it is inevitable that there are matters on which we have not always seen eye to eye.    

“But the strength of our friendship has bred a resilient spirit of cooperation and goodwill,” the Queen said at the Buckingham Palace banquet to mark the Spanish royals' state visit.

While her government grapples with Brexit proceedings, the British monarch stressed that “whatever challenges arise” both her country and Spain will prosper.

Guests were served a three-course menu including Scottish beef with bone marrow and truffles, with a Madeira wine sauce.   

The glitzy occasion closed the first day of the visit, which saw Felipe raise the issue of Gibraltar in an address to parliament.   

“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 said.

Referring to the history of diplomatic relations between Britain and Spain, he added: “I am certain that this resolve to overcome our differences will be even greater in the case of Gibraltar.”

WATCH: King Felipe calls for Gibraltar dialogue in speech to UK parliament

With a population of just over 32,000, Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory since 1713 but Spain has long laid claim to the rocky outcrop.

Unlike Britain, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union in last year's referendum, and it depends on an open border with Spain for its workforce and trade.

But Spain wants shared sovereignty and the EU has promised Spain a veto over the extension to Gibraltar of any future trade deal between Britain and the bloc, prompting outrage in London.

Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo said that while the population wanted friendly relations with Spain, their position on sovereignty remains clear.

“In the times in which we live, territories cannot be traded from one monarch to another like pawns in a chess game,” he said in a statement.    

“In Gibraltar the people have spoken loud and clear. Our freely expressed democratic wishes must be respected and that means understanding Gibraltar will remain 100 percent British,” Picardo added.

Brexit 'saddens' Spain

Anticipating the tone adopted later by his host, the king's speech was overwhelmingly conciliatory, speaking about shared history between the two countries as well as joint efforts against terrorism after four attacks in Britain this year.

He said Brexit “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.   

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

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

The king also expressed sympathy over the recent terror attacks in Britain.    

A Spaniard was among eight people killed in an attack by three Islamist sympathisers wielding knives and wearing fake suicide vests in the London Bridge area last month.

Felipe paid tribute to 39-year-old Ignacio Echeverria, who reportedly struck one of the attackers with his skateboard before being stabbed.

The king said Echeverria behaved in “an exemplary and heroic manner”.    

The visit by Felipe and his wife Queen Letizia was delayed twice, once while Spanish politicians formed a new government last year and again in June because Britain held a snap general election.

The Spanish royals were greeted earlier on Wednesday by the British monarch — a distant cousin of Felipe — at an elaborate ceremony in central London.   

Felipe will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday where the subject of Gibraltar could be raised again.   

Business will also be on the agenda, with Spanish executives from Ferrovial, a Heathrow airport shareholder, Santander Bank and telecoms firm Telefonica accompanying the royals.

By Alfons Luna / AFP

READ ALSO:

BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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