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

The Spanish government has brought in a Royal Decree of contingency plans to outline the rights of Britons resident in Spain in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Spain guarantees residency for 400,000 Brits even with Hard Brexit
Photo: ruskpp/Depositphotos

The measures, which were formally announced on Friday, included the guarantee that those Britons legally resident in Spain on March 29th would be offered new permanent residency papers.

Announcing the Royal Decree, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told a press conference in Moncloa that the measures were designed as a contingency plan “in case Britain leaves the EU without securing a withdrawal agreement.”

“It will assure the continued rights of those British living in Spain,” said Borrell adding that “ although it is unilateral measure passed by Spain, we expect that it will be met with reciprocity by the British government. “

He added that one of the most important aspects was to “ensure the smooth flow at the border with Gibraltar”.


The measures state that “around 400,000” British nationals would be eligible for the new residency status even if the UK crashes out of the EU without ratifying a withdrawal agreement.

The only requirement will be that they have to apply for a new foreigner identity card, sometime before December 31 2020.

“The process will be nearly automatic,” for those who already have permanent residency, according to the text.

The decree extends the rights of British citizens currently resident in Spain and covers issues such as healthcare, driving licences and pensions/social security.

All of which will be guaranteed during “a transition period” lasting until the end of 2020.

As well as guaranteeing access to healthcare for those with S1 certificates, the new decree will also allow British tourists to receive emergency care in Spain if they are in possession of an EHIC card.

The law will come as a huge relief to the tens of thousands of British pensioners living on the Spanish costas who rely on access to local hospitals and doctors.

READ MORE: Brits welcome Spain’s No-Deal Brexit contingency law

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

“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.”

The measures are designed to limit any damage Brexit might do to its tourism industry which is the second largest sector of the economy. Last year, 18 million British tourists came to Spain.

Flights between Britain and Spain will not be affected by Brexit for a year as the present EU deal on air travel will continue.

The text of the decree also discusses the status of the approximately 9,000 Spanish workers who live in Campo de Gibraltar and cross into the Rock every day and guarantees freedom of movement over the border.

But the government stressed that it is a “unilateral” measure and requires reciprocity from the British government to ensure Spanish citizens resident in Britain can enjoy the same rights.

The royal decree states that if there is no reciprocal agreement within two months then the cabinet can suspend it.

After being given the greenlight by Pedro Sanchez’s government on Friday, the decree will need to be sent to parliament for approval.

Luckily, the measures have cross-party support as the Spanish parliament will be suspended next week to allow campaigning ahead of the election on April 28th so it should be passed into law without problems.

READ MORE: These are the upcoming Brexit events 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.