OPINION: Why Biden’s victory could have a big impact on Brexit negotiations

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain believes the change at the helm of US politics will be prove a decisive factor in the UK’s willingness to compromise over a Brexit deal.

OPINION: Why Biden's victory could have a big impact on Brexit negotiations
President Elect Joe Biden. Photo: AFP

You have probably noticed that America is soon to have a new president. The current White House incumbent has his ears and eyes firmly closed and refuses to accept that his days are numbered. According to some sources in the UK media, our own head of state, Boris Johnson, may be in a similarly insecure position.

Since Joe Biden officially became the President Elect on Saturday, after what seemed like days of election uncertainty, he has hit the ground running. Despite not yet receiving any recognition of his win or offer of transitional support from Donald Trump, he has already started to implement important plans.

An urgent task for Biden is the fight against coronavirus. He has created a special task force, comprising health officials, physicians and virology experts. He has also actively encouraging the wearing of face masks by the American public – unlike Trump, who was pictured without one even when he was Covid positive.

The contrast between Biden and Trump could not be starker. In January, the American people will finally have an adult in charge: one who has a heart, a brain and a wealth of experience. The change will leave many UK residents feeling jealous that we are being led by “Britain’s Trump”.

Prime Minister Johnson and Biden have never met, though they have now spoken on the phone.  On Tuesday, Biden spoke with a number of European leaders, including Ireland’s Michael Martin. Biden reassured the Irish Taoiseach that Brexit must not damage the Good Friday Agreement, in a call that Martin described as “warm and engaging”.

On his call with Johnson, Biden stressed the importance of securing a Brexit deal that protects peace in Northern Ireland. Presumably, Biden’s earlier reference to Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump, was not mentioned.

Biden has made no secret of his disdain for Brexit and is fiercely loyal to, and proud of, his Irish roots.

Johnson’s Internal Market Bill (IMB) is a cause of consternation in America, as it threatens to break the international treaty of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

The deal that Johnson signed with the EU a year ago, settling the early stages of Brexit – including our rights as citizens – is under significant threat, along with the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

Both Biden and the US government have made it clear that, as guarantors to the GFA, they will refuse any trade deal with the UK if Johnson reneges on his international commitments.

On Monday, the controversial IMB was given short shrift by the House of Lords. In a significant government defeat, even staunch Conservative Brexit supporters expressed their outrage at the government’s plans.

Yet, despite the opposition, Johnson insists that the controversial clauses the Lords removed will be reinstated when the bill returns to the Commons in December. The prime minister and his cabinet insist that the clauses exist for the protection of the GFA, rather than being a threat– an argument accepted by only his most loyal supporters.

Of course, what happens in December depends on the ongoing Brexit negotiations with the EU. The change at the helm of US politics could be a decisive factor in the UK’s willingness to compromise over a deal.

The behaviour of certain Brexiter backbenchers is doing nothing to improve relations with the new political leaders in the USA. Iain Duncan Smith told Biden to “butt out” of UK domestic policy and let the UK “get on with our legislation”.

John Redwood went further, sending a “warning letter” to the president elect, saying that our mandate (for Brexit) was bigger than his mandate (for being president). As if Johnson’s own behaviour, both past and present, isn’t already causing concern across the pond, we have to listen to the Conservative equivalent of my dad is bigger than your dad!

While our prime minister still seems to believe that he – or at least the UK – has a special relationship with America, the Democratic party clearly disagrees. Johnson’s racist comments are coming back to haunt him and his close association with Trump is disliked by the new administration.

When Johnson eventually congratulated Biden in a tweet, former Obama press aide, Tommy Vietor, responded by calling him a “shapeshifting creep”, adding, “we will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump”.

Try as we might, the era of Trump, and the UK’s Poundland version, isn’t so quick to erase from our collective memory.

When hurtful words, deeds and policies have affected so many lives, the healing process will take time. We hope that our own battle with dishonest, racist, self-serving politics will soon be over.

If we could also rid ourselves of the toxicity in the Home Office, so much the better. I never again want to listen to Home Secretary, Priti Patel, gloating about how “delighted” she is to remove our freedom of movement.

A change is coming, whether it’s the Prime Minister’s choice or one forced on him by his “loyal” party. We can only hope the cure isn’t worse than the disease, and that Britain will soon find its very own Biden and see a return to caring, outward-looking politics.

You never know… we might even renew links with our wonderful European neighbours. If there’s one gift President Elect Biden gave us last weekend, it was hope.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?