OPINION: If only all Brits could be fast-tracked for Spanish citizenship

Brexit has led many Brits in Spain to think about changing their nationality, writes Graham Keeley, but for some the process is alot easier than for others.

OPINION: If only all Brits could be fast-tracked for Spanish citizenship
James Rhodes was awarded Spanish citizenship this week. Photo: @JRhodesPianist/Twitter

The British concert pianist James Rhodes was granted Spanish citizenship this week in a move which angered some critics of the government.


The fast-track award of citizenship for the musician who only moved to Spain three years ago prompted accusations of cronyism against the left-wing coalition.

Critics bridled at the way Rhodes was given citizenship so quickly while many others have toiled for years in the salt mines of Spanish bureaucracy without success.


The pianist was granted citizenship by Carta de Naturaleza, or letter of naturalisation following a cabinet meeting. Express citizenship, you might call it.

Normally, the rules say that foreign nationals must live in Spain for ten years before they can apply. Even then, they may face years of battling with paperwork.

Those granted refugee status can get citizenship in five years and it is only two years for people in certain Latin American countries.

The row set me thinking about the issue of citizenship as Brexit is finally about to happen on December 31st.

As a Briton, I have been struggling with months of what they call in Spanish 'papeleo', that is nightmare bureaucracy over Brexit.

The latest round revolved being rejected for a TIE card for my two youngest sons.

It turned out we must wait for the post office to bring us a piece of paper with exactly the same information as the piece of paper I was given at another office last month.

Only then can I ask for the TIE.

Kafkaesque doesn't even begin to sum it up.

At the same time, a police officer advised me: 'It is only going to get worse for people with British passports. Get them French passports.' (Reader they are half French)

Boy, I am tempted.

After hearing of the story of James Rhodes' speedy Spanish citizenship, I felt a twinge of jealousy. Perhaps it is time to give up on the British passport after all?

At this point I should say full disclosure: I am a big fan of Rhodes, for two reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, because of the way he campaigned to change the law on child sexual offences in his adopted home.

This led to what the media have called the 'Ley Rhodes', making it easier for those who suffered abuse to bring successful prosecutions.

Secondly, he is a wonderful pianist. Go and see him when life returns to some semblance of normality. Genius.

But back to the issue of citizenship, I know plenty of people who are taking that step, regardless of the paperwork involved.

For most people it is a practical issue which will allow them to live and work more easily in Spain or other parts of Europe.

READ ALSO: 'I'm a proud Brit but here's why I'm officially becoming Spanish'

One friend is very practical about it. 'It is just a matter of papers to me. Of course, I am no more Spanish than you. But I just want to be able to go about my life without all the hassle that is going to come with having a British passport,' she said to me the other day.

Perhaps I am reluctant to take the plunge because of some nostalgic link to the old country? i.e. Britain.

However, I harbour no such reluctance for my children. I am going to start applying for French passports as soon as possible.

Vive la France! A bas les anglais!

After all, why should they be lumbered with all the same problems as me when there is an easy way out of this?

The blue British passport will not bear their names.

The row over citizenship makes me wonder why this has become such a consuming issue in the 21st century.

This should be a moment in history when barriers are coming down internationally.

Of course the past four years of history have demonstrated quite the opposite, in Europe with Brexit and in the US with the success of outgoing President Donald Trump.

However, that was then.

Looking to the future, as we try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps nations might come together? 

Well, here's hoping.



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .






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Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

UK nationals living in Spain have begun to receive letters from their bank telling them that their accounts will be closed, in an apparent post-Brexit change. Have you been affected?

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

Customers of Barclays Bank who are living in Spain and other EU countries have been receiving letters telling them that their UK accounts will be closed by the end of the year. 

A number of readers of The Local’s network of news websites have contacted us to report receiving either letters or messages in their online banking telling them that their accounts would be closed because of their residency in Spain or in other countries in the EU.

A Barclays spokesperson told The Local: “As a ring fenced bank, our Barclays UK products are designed for customers within the UK.

“We will no longer be offering services to personal current account or savings customers (excluding ISAs) within the European Economic Area. We are contacting impacted customers to give them advance notice of this decision and outline the next steps they need to take.”  

Customers are being given six months to make alternative arrangements. The changes affect all personal current accounts or savings accounts, but do not affect ISAs, loans or mortgages.

During the Brexit transition period Barclays closed Barclaycard accounts of customers in Spain, but did not indicate any changes to standard bank accounts.


Around the same time several other British high street banks began closing accounts of British customers who live in the EU, although with the exception of Barclaycard customers in Spain who were largely spared.

Many UK nationals who live in Spain maintain at least one UK bank account – in addition to a Spanish account – sometimes just for savings but others use their accounts regularly to receive income such as pensions or income from rental property or – for remote workers – to receive income for work done in the UK.

Not having a UK bank account can make financial transactions in the UK more complicated or incur extra banking fees.

READ MORE: What are the best UK banks for Brits in Spain?

Since Brexit, the UK banking sector no longer has access to the ‘passporting’ system which allows banks to operate in multiple EU countries without having to apply for a separate banking licence for each country.

And it seems that many UK high street banks are deciding that the extra paperwork is not worth the hassle and are withdrawing completely from certain EU markets. 

When British banks began withdrawing services from customers in the EU back in 2020, a UK government spokesman told British newspaper The Times that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a number of factors” so Brits in Spain probably shouldn’t hold their breath for any help from that direction.

READ ALSO: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account