BREXIT: Spain enshrines in law voting rights for UK residents in local elections

The Spanish senate has given the final green light to a reciprocal agreement with the UK on voting rights that has been in the pipeline for more than two years.

BREXIT: Spain enshrines in law voting rights for UK residents in local elections
Photo: AFP

On Wednesday December 2 the Spanish senate voted in favour of a bilateral agreement with the UK that will give British residents in Spain and Spanish residents in the UK the right to vote in post-Brexit local elections in the country they live in.

The deal was reported to be on the cusp of being finalised in December 2018 but it’s only now that the Spanish senate has ratified the last part of the bilateral treaty, as with the final Brexit deadline being continuously pushed back, they saw no need for it to come into force.

The deal received 236 votes in favour and 23 abstentions.

The bilateral agreement will guarantee that Brits who are official residents in Spain and Spaniards with ‘settled status’ in the UK can continue to vote in local elections after December 31st 2020.

When The Local Spain initially reported on the agreement, there were 37 locally elected British town and city councillors in Spain, mostly in the Valencia region and Andalusia, the two Spanish regions with the highest number of British residents.

The current negotiation will ensure that the roughly 300,000 Brits officially residing in Spain keep these two rights and will be able place their ballots – or stand – in Spain's next local elections.


Brexit checklist for Brits in Spain: Residency, travel, healthcare, pets and pensions

Equally, more than 246,000 Spanish citizens have registered as ‘settled’ in the UK to maintain their rights in the country post-Brexit, including that of voting in local elections.

Spain’s ruling left-wing government intends for there to be no “elecciones municipales” in 2021, with either late 2022 or early 2023 being touted in its latest state budget.

The deal is a reciprocal agreement which will be treated as an international treaty that has to be ratified by Spain and Britain's parliaments.

Spain's local elections determine which councillors are chosen in the country's 8,116 municipalities and what seats political parties hold in the 38 provincial councils.

The municipal elections are usually held simultaneously with regional elections in most of Spain's autonomous communities.

British citizens will not be the first non-EU nationals who have the right to vote in local elections in Spain as the country already has bilateral agreements for this with Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago. 

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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?