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BREXIT

‘I’m a proud Brit but here’s why I’m officially becoming Spanish’

Mary Reid considers herself proudly British, and yet after 14 years in Spain creating a life, a career and a family, the time has come for her to switch allegiance.

'I'm a proud Brit but here's why I'm officially becoming Spanish'
Mary Reid with her partner Raul and their two young sons.

Friday, July 19th was supposed to be a significant day for Mary Reid, 41, an English teacher born in Nottingham, because it was the long awaited day when she was to officially become a Spaniard in a swearing in ceremony at the Civil Registry in Madrid.

But this is Spain and things don’t always go to plan when it comes to bureaucracy. Nevertheless, The Local caught up with the mother-of-two to discuss her quest to become the latest Brit to be granted Spanish citizenship.

“It’s ridiculous to admit this, but I was actually really nervous last night thinking about the monumental step I was about to take. Swearing allegiance to another flag seems strange for me. I’ve always felt proud to be British. I proudly wore the Team GB shirt during the London Olympics, I even have a Union Jack apron,” she laughed.

“I know I will always be British and the renouncing is only symbolic, but it still seems almost like a betrayal,” she said referring to the fact that Spain does not legally allow dual citizenship with UK nationals. so Brits are expected to renounce their nationality (although this doesn't actually require the handing over of a British passport).

“But, well with Brexit, becoming Spanish is the only thing that makes sense.”

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Photo: Deposit photos

For Reid, like countless of other Brits resident in Spain, taking Spanish citizenship is the obvious option to secure her future rights not only in Spain but in Europe.

“I’ve been here for 14 years, I’m fluent in Spanish, my work is here but still with Brexit, it all feels precarious,” admits Reid, who has been with her Spanish partner for eight years and has two young sons.

“My family is here, my partner, my children, Spain is absolutely where I feel at home and while I am very happy to go back twice a year to visit my friends and family there, I have no plans to return to the UK to live.”

“Until Brexit, I could quite happily have reconciled the two but now I have to do what I can to secure my future.”

Reid, who originally came over to Spain with the British Council scheme to teach English in Madrid’s bilingual schools, has since become a fully fledged member of the Spanish teaching staff, taking and passing her oposiciones (public servant exams) to become a funcionario (civil servant).

“I was able to do that and now enjoy a job for life because of my status as a Brit within the European Union but once that changes who knows what the future could bring”.

Shortly after the June 2016 referendum in which 51.9 percent voted to leave the European Union, Reid consulted an immigration lawyer.

She started the process when she took her Dele exam to prove Spanish proficiency in November 2016.

She also took the citizenship test (CCSE) and then filed her formal application with Spain’s Ministry of Justice in July 2017 after meeting the condition of having lived in Spain for at least ten years as well as supplying criminal record check.

A month ago she was sent an email informing her that her request for citizenship had been granted and told that in order to complete the process to get her passport and DNI, she had to be sworn in within 180 days.

The whole process has cost Reid upwards of €1,000 but legal fees can push the cost up even more.

“I probably could have gone through the process off my own back but I realised that using someone who knows how to navigate the system and knows exactly how best to approach it, how to get appointments etc would be invaluable and it has been. I’ve been told I’m one of the lucky ones to get citizenship within just two years of applying.”

There was a reported backlog of citizenship applications amounting to around 400,000 by the end of last year, with applications expected to take around three years to process.

Margaret Hauschild Rey, a lawyer who specialises in immigration issues at Bennet & Rey law firm in Madrid, said the number of Brits applying for citizenship had soared. 

“Put it this way, I had none before the Brexit vote and now I am working on 30 cases, including Mary’s” she said. 

“It is absolutely possible for applicants to do it without a lawyer but as this is what we do every day, we understand the system and how to navigate it so our assistance can help things go smoother.”

But even she admitted that sometimes, it just depends on the person behind the desk that day as to the result as well as the process being in constant flux.

“When Mary applied for an appointment to do the swearing in, it was a requirement for everyone in Madrid to do it at the central Registry Office but by the time the appointment came around, the conditions have changed and they now require that applicants are sworn in at the registry office where they are registered on the padron,” said Hauschild Rey.

But that could change again next week or even if there was someone else on the desk.

Reid, however, isn’t too worried. 

“I’ve lived long enough in Spain to expect this sort of bureaucratic hitch,” she said after securing a new appointment in her local town hall of Alcobendas for September. 

“I guess that’s just part of being Spanish,” she quipped adding that she was really looking forward to being able to vote here.

Her partner, Raul joked: “Now to be properly Spanish you just have to learn to speak at the top of your voice when in a restaurant!”.

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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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