Brits welcome Spain’s No-Deal Brexit contingency law

A new Royal Decree announced by Pedro Sanchez’s government on Friday has come as a huge relief to those Brits worried that a hard deal Brexit would jeopardize their rights to live in Spain.

Brits welcome Spain’s No-Deal Brexit contingency law
Photo: Aliced/Depositphotos

It should particularly reassure then tens of thousands of British pensioners who retired to Spain and who rely on access to local hospitals and doctors.

Campaigners who have been fighting to protect the rights of European citizens post-Brexit described the new law as “positive”.

READ MORE: Spain guarantees residency for 400,000 Brits even with Hard Brexit

“EuroCitizens welcomes the publication of the Royal Decree today by the Spanish Government, which will clarify the situation of the 314,000 Britons in a no-deal scenario,” the organization's chair, Michael Harris told The Local.

“We will analyse the text in depth to see the implications for different groups of UK residents. Next week, we are having a meeting with civil servants from various Spanish ministries and we will follow up on any queries that might arise.”

Meanwhile, Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, said a lot of their members would be sleeping better as a result of the Royal Decree.

“This news will provide great relief for those that have been living in limbo for so long. A no-deal Brexit is the worst case scenario, and the outcome that Brits in Spain fear the most,” she said.

“To know that the Spanish government has our backs and has plans in place to protect us in every eventuality, will allow many to sleep better tonight.

“Whilst I still believe that a no-deal Brexit can't happen, we're grateful that every contingency has been covered. We only wish our British government were as keen to protect our rights and freedoms as the Spanish government obviously are,” she said.

But some feared that the law could stall and they could yet be deprived of the rights they currently enjoy as residents in Spain, if the UK failed to offer Spaniards resident in UK the same deal.

“It is dependent on UK making reciprocal measures for Spaniards in the UK. Thus far from a done deal,” one reader commented on The Local Spain’s Facebook page.

But as the UK has already reached an agreement with the European Union on citizens’ rights, the reciprocity issue seems unproblematic.

One commentator pointed out that the whole agreement could be derailed very easily.

“We are already seeing stories of EU citizens many years resident in UK married working with British grandchildren being refused settled status. There only needs to be one Spanish case and this all falls apart,” said a member of Bremain in Spain on their website. 

Others felt that although the Royal Decree had brought a reprieve, it might just kick the problem down the line.

The royal decree talks about a transition period lasting until December 312020, and some are concerned this means that rights will only be ring-fenced until then.

“This isvery worrying as it means we will carry on having sleepless nights about eventually having to buy private healthcare when we will all be older, it will be more expensive and we will maybe have pre-existing conditions that won’t be covered,” wrote one anxious reader.  

“This only moves the problem down the road in the event of a no deal.”

OPINION: Remainers must forgive fellow Brits in Spain who fell for the Brexit lie

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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.