Brexit brings uncertainty to Spanish businesses and citizens, says King Felipe

Brexit has created uncertainty for both Spanish businesses and citizens, King Felipe VI of Spain said Thursday during his state visit to Britain, calling for a swift resolution.

Brexit brings uncertainty to Spanish businesses and citizens, says King Felipe
King Felipe addresses the UK-Spain Business Forum in London. Photo: AFP

In a reception in the City of London business district before holding talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, the monarch also said there was a need to “minimise future obstacles.

“We cannot deny that the scenario created by Britain's decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty and doubts for our major companies, and especially for our small and medium enterprises,” King Felipe said.

“We must ensure that the negotiations reduce such uncertainty to the minimum. It is vital that the framework of our future relations create the conditions for a closer trading relationship by trying to minimise future obstacles,” the monarch said.   

Britain is the top destination for Spanish investment in Europe. In sectors such as banking, Spain is the second-biggest investor in Britain behind the United States.

British exports to Spain were worth €16.7 billion  ($19.1 billion) in 2015, while Spanish imports were worth €28 billion. 

Spanish investments in Britain topped €82 billion that year. Meanwhile Britain is the second-biggest investor in Spain, representing 12 percent of total foreign investment.

“These investments created around 110,000 jobs in Spain, where around 1,000 British companies have a base,” the king said.    

The main Spanish companies in Britain attended the reception, including the banks Santander and Sabadell, Inditex (Zara) and Ferrovial, which was involved in building London's new Underground train line.

Reassurance for Spaniards in UK

In a separate speech to the Spanish community at the embassy in London, King Felipe asked for “certainty” for the more than 100,000 Spaniards living in Britain.

“We are confident that the agreement on Britain leaving the European Union… will soon give you the necessary certainty to continue living your lives in peace and with confidence,” the sovereign said.

There are around 300,000 Britons living in Spain, many of whom are retired and depend on free medical care under EU rules. The 116,000-odd Spaniards in Britain are mainly workers.

“We know that many of you wish to remain in Britain after it leaves the EU, carrying on with your work and way of life, which began when there were no shadows of uncertainty about the future,” the king said.

“We want to encourage the Spanish and British governments to work to make this possible.”

Before the reception at the embassy, King Felipe and Queen Letizia visited Westminster Abbey in London, where they laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier and saw the tomb of Eleanor of Castile, the Spanish wife of England's king Edward I, who died in 1290.

Gibraltar issue, glitzy banquet

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

“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 state visit.

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

He called for “arrangements that are acceptable to all involved”.    

On its southern coast, Spain ceded the tiny rocky outcrop of Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713.

By Alfons Luna / AFP


Photos: AFP


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.