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BREXIT

What Britons in Spain need to do during the six-month Brexit delay

Simon Manley, the British Ambassador to Madrid, has penned an open letter to Britons living in Spain.

What Britons in Spain need to do during the six-month Brexit delay
British Ambassador to Madrid, Simon Manley. Photo: FCO

I’m sure you have been following recent developments in the Brexit negotiations very closely, so I wanted to give you a quick update about what all of this means for British people living here in Spain.

The European Council has agreed what is being called a “flexible extension” to the process of our departure from the European Union, until 31 October. Flexible, because if the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by both the UK and the European Parliaments before then, we will leave on the first day of the month after that approval.

So for example, if we pass a deal in the first three weeks of May, the UK will leave the European Union on the first of June. That would also mean we won’t take part in elections to the European Parliament. If, however, a deal is not passed by that point, European Parliamentary elections will take place in the UK. And if you are registered to vote in European elections here in Spain, then you should be able to do so.

I understand all of this is unsettling and frustrating for many of you. You want to know on what terms we are going to leave the European Union and what that maymean for you as a UK national living in Spain. During this extension period, the UK remains a full member of the EU and consequently your existing rights will not change. So, for example, your rights to healthcare, to residency and to travel throughout the EU, remain exactly as they are today.

Nonetheless, during this extension period, as we prepare to leave the European Union, it remains really important to ensure that you are correctly registered. I understand, however, that many of you are finding it difficult to get appointments. Let me assure you that we are talking with the Spanish authorities about this. Meanwhile, the Spanish Government has advised that if you can’t get an appointment now, you should make sure that you’ve got proof that you were living here before we leave the European Union, whether that be a padrón certificate or utility bills. 

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The Spanish Government also advises on their Moncloa website on Brexit contingency measures, to keep checking for new appointments to become available. Should we leave the EU with a deal, as we very much hope, you will have until the end of the Implementation Period, currently set at 31 December 2020, to register, if you have not done so already. Should we, however, leave without a deal, as could still happen, the Spanish Government has said you will have a 21-month grace period from the date of our departure to register.  

You can also prepare by signing up for email alerts for our Living in Spain guide on gov.uk or by joining our Brits in Spain Facebook community, where you can also find some videos on what you need to do to prepare for Brexit on issues such as registration, driving licences, healthcare and travel.

I wish you and your families a very happy Easter.

 

More information:

FCO website 'Living in Spain' HERE and their Facebook page HERE

Spanish government dedicated Brexit information page HERE

List of provincial Extranjerias – foreigner offices – HERE 

READ ALSO: How to exchanging your British driving licence for a Spanish one 

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BRITS IN EUROPE

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.

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