Spain to pass new law to protect rights of Britons in case of no-deal Brexit

Spain is poised to approve a new law containing contingency plans in the event that Britain crashes out of the European Union on March 29th without ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement.

Spain to pass new law to protect rights of Britons in case of no-deal Brexit
File photo of Pedro Sanchez in Parliament. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the Spanish parliament on Wednesday that a Royal Decree would be signed on Friday at the cabinet meeting that would “prepare for all eventualities of a messy Brexit”.

Discussing the likelihood that Brexit may be delayed he said he would not oppose such a move but wanted any postponement to yield concrete results.

“Although Spain will not oppose granting a possible extension, this must have an assured perspective of resolution,” he said.   

“Prolonging uncertainty by postponing deadlines is not a reasonable alternative nor is it desirable.”


But Brexit remains shrouded in uncertainty Spain will push forward and prepare for a the worst case scenario – a no-deal.

“The government works with certainties and not speculations”, he said outlining that these refer to a “scenario with only two possibilities”, an orderly withdrawal based on a “meticulously ordered” agreement, or an “abrupt withdrawal, without any agreement”.

The measures contained within the new law will be temporary and in some cases subject to reciprocal measures put in place by the British government towards Spaniards in the UK.

But what will reassure those Britons worried about their future status, certain guarantees have been made – albeit on a reciprocal basis.

The new law will guarantee the existing rights of Britons who are legally resident in Spain on March 29th during a transition period that will last until December 31st 2020.

In a draft seen by The Local, the new law will protect access to healthcare and social security, including the validity of the S1 certificate that ensures pensioners the right to free healthcare in Spain.  

It will also provide a grace period for people to transfer their driving licences from British issued ones to Spanish ones.

Important for those who regularly travel over the border between Spain and Gibraltar, the new law will guarantee free passage until a permanent agreement is made.

READ ALSO: The ultimate No-Deal Brexit checklist for Brits in Spain

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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.