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UPDATE: No, Brits in Spain don’t have to apply to exchange their driving licence before Brexit day

UPDATE: Brits in Spain are being assured that they will be able to exchange their UK driving licence for a Spanish one anytime before the end of 2020, despite information on the DGT website.

UPDATE: No, Brits in Spain don't have to apply to exchange their driving licence before Brexit day
Photo by takahiro taguchi on Unsplash

One of the essential preparations Brits in Spain have been advised to do before Brexit is to make sure they had renewed or exchanged their UK driving licence for a Spanish equivalent. Or at least applied to do so.

But many have been having issues getting appointments, while no doubt many more might not have begun the process.

Many readers have complained that it is difficult to get appointments to exchange their UK driving licences for Spanish ones as the Brexit deadline of January 31st approaches.  

As Brexit approaches many Brits in Spain have naturally been asking what they need to do before January 31st with the question of driving licences at the forefront of people's queries.

The website for Spain's road authority the Direccion General de Traffico (DGT) contains information for Britons and what they need to do to exchange a driving licence.

UPDATE:

Spain's Ministry of Interior website was updated on January 30th, the day after the EU parliament ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, with the notice that Brits in Spain would have until the end of the Transition Period on December 31st to swap their British driving licence for a Spanish one.

“The United Kingdom's departure with a Withdrawal Agreement in place ensures that European regulations on driving licenses will continue to apply until the end of the transitional period planned for December 31, 2020,” the website states. 

“People who hold British licenses and intend to remain residing in Spain after the end of the transitional period, are advised to exchange their driving license for a Spanish permit before December 31, 2020 To do so, they must make an appointment through the following link,” it continues. 

They provide a link to request a Cita Previa (private appoitment) HERE

No reason to panic

Until just two days before Brexit, the DGT website had included a warning on the page dedicated to Brits and the driving licence exchange process that the DGT will only guarantee to do so under the current system if Brits registered their intent to do so BEFORE Brexit at midnight on January 31st.

Facebook message

In a message posted on a popular Facebook page for Britains in Spain in mid-January, members were warned that it was essential to call this number to signal their intent before the Brexit deadline regardless of the fact a Withdrawal Agreement is in place.

“It's not scaremongering, it's fact,” the message said.

But those who were alarmed by such guidance, can now breathe a sigh of relief as the issue has been cleared up. 

READ MORE: Brexit and Spain: What does it mean for travel after January 31st?

What do the British Embassy say?

On January 28th the British Embassy in Madrid issued a reassuring message on their Facebook page, Brits in Spain. 

It reads:

“We know there has been some confusion around the exchange of UK driving licences and whether you need to start the process by 31 January.

“The information currently on the DGT website referring to the need to register your details by 31 January would apply only to a no-deal scenario.

“The UK is set to leave the EU with a deal under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. In practice this means that the rules around the exchange of UK licences will remain the same during the transition period.

“You will have until 31 December to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one under the current rules, so there is no need to worry if you are unable to start the process before 31 January.”

It's worth noting that in comments below the Facebook post people, especially those living in the Malaga area, were still being advised to start the application process before January 31st.

It's a sign that while the British Embassy might offer reassuring statement Brits in Spain may find the situation on the ground slightly different.

And what do citizens campaign groups say?

Before the embassy's update John Carrivick from Eurocitizens told The Local: “The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) does not specifically address the question of driving licences but it makes clear that EU will continue to apply EU law to UK citizens in the EU (and vice versa) during the transition period. This January deadline would seem to breach at least the spirit of the WA but in practice civil servants are more likely to obey written instructions from their own department than stick their necks out and apply a personal interpretation of the WA.”

What about making an appointment?

Many readers have complained that it is difficult to get appointments to exchange their UK driving licences for Spanish ones as the Brexit deadline of January 31st approaches.  

Even after the original Brexit date of March 29th was postponed and the October 31st date came and went,  last minute applications has meant it is a struggle to book an appointment at some DGT (Direccion General de Trafico) offices, especially those where there are a big concentration of British residents such as Alicante. 

Some people have tried to get appointments in other cities where there are less foreigners requesting the service and reportedly it is still possible to secure an appointment at the Bilbao office within a week.

What if I haven't even moved to Spain yet?

The Local understands that Spain will put something in place to cover those who move to Spain before the end of the transition period but it is yet to be officially announced by the Spanish government and the DGT traffic department.

Worst case scenario: 

After the end of the transition period British licences could be subject to the regulations for ´third countries´ and British driving licences will NOT be able to be swapped for Spanish ones unless a new bilateral agreement between Spain and UK has been drawn up.

Failure to swap your licence could, in the worst case scenario, mean that in order to drive legally in Spain one would have to sit the Spanish driving test.

What if I return to the UK with a Spanish driving licence?

Don't worry about the exchange being permanent either. If you return to the UK permanently then it is simple enough to request a replacement British driving licence from the DVLA:

And on visits back to the UK it should still be possible to drive with a Spanish licence as it is now, although check the insurance policy of the car you are using back in UK.

Conclusions?

If you live in Spain, then by law you will need to change your driving licence to a Spanish one, so make an appointment as soon as possible and hope that the DGT have told employees how to process it during the transition period.

To find out out to do that you can use our guide: Exchanging your British driving licence for a Spanish one: What you need to know

READ MORE: 

 

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For members

BREXIT

What is the latest on Gibraltar’s Brexit status?

With 2023 approaching and negotiations between Gibraltar, the UK, EU and Spain dragging on for yet another year, what is the latest on Gibraltar and Brexit? Will they reach a deal before New Year and how could it affect life in Gibraltar and Spain?

What is the latest on Gibraltar's Brexit status?

As British politics tries to move on from Brexit, the tiny British territory at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar, has been stuck in political limbo since the referendum all the way back in 2016.

Gibraltar, which voted in favour of Remain during the referendum by a whopping 96 percent, was not included in the Brexit deal and has instead relied on a framework agreement made between the UK and Spain on New Year’s Eve in 2020.

After that framework was laid out, it was hoped that the various parties – that is, the Gibraltarian government, Spain, the EU, and the UK – would build on it and quickly find a wider treaty agreement establishing Gibraltar’s place on the European mainland in the post-Brexit world.

It was thought that Gibraltar could enter into a common travel area with the Schengen zone, limiting border controls and essentially creating a custom-made customs arrangement with the EU.

But since then, the negotiation process has stopped and started, with no deal being made and uncertainty dragging on through 2021.

Despite all parties still being relatively optimistic in the spring of 2022, no resolution has been found and 2023 is approaching.

Relying on the framework agreement alone, uncertainty about what exactly the rules are and how they should be implemented have caused confusion and long delays on the border.

The roadblocks

Progress in the multi-faceted negotiations to bash out a treaty and determine Gibraltar’s place in the post-Brexit world have repeatedly stumbled over the same roadblocks.

The main one is the issue of the border. Known in Spain and Gibraltar as La Línea – meaning ‘the line’ in reference to the Spanish town directly across the border, La Línea de la Concepción – the subject of the border and who exactly will patrol it (and on which side) has been a constant sticking point in negotiations.

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in late November 2022. There has been no immediate response from London.

The Gibraltarians refuse to accept Spanish boots on the ground and would prefer the European-wide Frontex border force. The British government feel this would be an impingement on British sovereignty. There’s also been the persistent issues of VAT and corporation tax considerations, as well as the British Navy base and how to police the waters around it.

Though there had been reports that the ongoing British driving license in Spain fiasco had been one of the reasons negotiations had stalled, the British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliot categorically denied any connection between the issue of Gibraltar’s Brexit deal and British driving licence recognition earlier in November.

READ ALSO: CONFIRMED: Deal on UK licences in Spain agreed but still no exchange date

On different pages?

Not only do the long-standing sticking points remain, but it also seems that the various negotiating parties are on slightly different pages with regards to how exactly each seems to think the negotiations are going.

Judging by reports in the Spanish press in recent weeks, it appears that many in Spain may believe the negotiations are wrapping up and a conclusion could be found by New Year. This perception comes largely from comments made by Pascual Navarro, Spain’s State Secretary to the EU. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Navarro claimed that negotiations have advanced so well that they were now only working ‘on the commas’ of the text – that is to say, tidying it up.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”. (Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

“No issue that is blocked,” he said. “All of the text is on the table.” A full treaty, he suggested, could be signed “before the end of the year.”

Yet it seems the Gibraltarians don’t quite see the progress as positively as their neighbours. Last week the Gibraltar government, known as No.6, acknowledged Navarro’s optimism.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo however, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”.

No.6 remains positive and hopes for a deal, but in recent weeks has also published technical contingency plans for businesses to prepare for what they are calling a ‘Non-Negotiated Outcome’ – effectively a ‘no-deal’ in normal Brexit jargon.

The UK, however, seem to be somewhere in the middle. Like Navarro, the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently suggested at a House of Commons select committee that only “a relatively small number” of issues remain to be resolved.

However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a non-negotiated outcome. “I think it’s legitimate to look at that [planning for a non-negotiated outcome] as part of our thinking,” Mr Cleverly said. “But obviously we are trying to avoid an NNO.”

Election year

If no deal is found by New Year, that would mean that negotiations drag into 2023 – election years for both Picardo and Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister.

Gibraltar is expected to have elections sometime in the second-half of the year, and Sánchez has to call an election by the end of 2023.

In many ways, Spanish domestic politics has the potential to play a far greater role in Gibraltar’s fate than British politics. In fact, the shadow of Spanish politics looms over these negotiations and the future relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, and the UK and EU.

If Sánchez’s PSOE were to lose the election, which according to the latest polling data is the most probable outcome, then it would be likely that Spain’s centre-right party PP would seek to renegotiate, if not outright reject, any deal made.

READ ALSO: Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

If PP are unable to secure a ruling majority, however, they may well be forced to rely on the far-right party Vox, who have often used nationalist anti-Gibraltar rhetoric as a political weapon. If Vox were to enter into government, which is unlikely but a possibility, it’s safe to say any agreement – if one is even reached before then – would be torn up and the Spanish government would take a much harder line in negotiations.

As the consequences of Brexit churn on in Britain, in Gibraltar uncertainty looms.

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