Brexit: Spain confident Galician fishing fleet won’t be kept out of British waters

Spain’s Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas told the Spanish parliament that fishing remained at the heart of the ongoing negotiations between the UK and the EU.

Brexit: Spain confident Galician fishing fleet won't be kept out of British waters
Miguel Riopa/AFP.

Planas said his government was ready to react to “any negotiations outcome,” according to a government statement. 

Spanish concerns about fishing can be split into three categories, according to the minister. Spain is worried about the access its fleet, especially vessels based in the northern region of Galicia, will have to British waters after Brexit.

Galician fishing boats could lose €500 million if they lose access to the UK’s waters. A report by the University of Santiago furthermore estimates that 81 sectors, including transport, financial and legal services, would be affected in such a scenario.

Planas said British boats backed by Spanish capital, as well as Spanish boats operating near the Falkland Islands, are also major concerns. The minister however expressed “optimism” that the UK will not pull out f the London Fisheries Convention, which gives several EU states access to British waters. Should the UK withdraw as part of any Brexit deal, Spain's fishing boats would no longer be guaranteed access to UK waters. 

“If there’s no access to their waters, there’s no access to products,” Planas said at a conference on fishing in Santiago de Compostela last week, reports local daily La Voz de Galicia. The UK is apparently keen to allow foreign vessels to retain access to its waters as UK fishing vessels do not have capacity to fully exploit UK waters alone, according to Planas.

Spanish companies meanwhile have been warned to make contingency plans for a potential no-deal scenario. More than 120 companies attended a seminar last Thursday highlighting threats to Spanish trade with the UK, hosted by Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism. More than 300 Spanish companies operate in Britain.

Spain and the UK have already reached an agreement to settle any outstanding issues relating to the future relationship between Gibraltar and Spain, according to Spain’s prime minister, reports The Local Spain. PM Pedro Sanchez nevertheless recently became only the third EU leader to call for a second Brexit vote.

READ MORE: Brexit road-tripper: 'It has made me appreciate what Europe has to offer and what we have to lose'

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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.