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BREXIT: Valencia region pushes to give Brits more than 90 days in Spain

Valencian authorities are actively campaigning for UK nationals to not have their time on Spain’s Costa Blanca limited or determined by the Schengen rules that now apply to them, with the regional president calling for “Brexit to be as Brexit-less as possible”. 

BREXIT: Valencia region pushes to give Brits more than 90 days in Spain
British residents and tourists bask in the sun on the beach in Benidorm. Valencian authorities are now fighting for them to be able to stay as long as they want in the Spanish region. Photo: José Jordan/AFP

The adverse consequences of Brexit on freedom of movement are having a knock-on effect on one of the Valencian economy’s driving forces: UK nationals who spend extended periods of time in Spain.

Authorities in the region that’s popular with British tourists and residents alike recorded a “notable decrease” in visitor numbers in 2020 compared to 2019, dropping from 3 million down to 600,000. 

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions have clearly had an impact on this slump in numbers, for Valencia’s regional president Ximo Puig “recovering the British market is a priority for the Valencian Community”, and that means resolving the limitations that Schengen rules impose on UK nationals who don’t hold a Spanish or EU residency document following Brexit.

On November 1st, Puig told journalists at the World Travel Market in London that he had urged Spain’s Tourism Ministry to help make it easier for British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa. 

This would encompass “British residents in the Valencian region, future home buyers and people who come to visit their families”, which according to regional authorities represents about 100,000 people.

The aim is to avoid the bureaucracy that this extension entails and the difficulties that it poses for British people who want to remain in the region for longer. As the Valencian leader put it, they want to make “Brexit as Brexit-less as possible”.

Puig’s call for the Spanish government to “facilitate the visa situation” and “correct the restrictions” that have come about with Brexit has reportedly already been heard by Industry, Tourism and Commerce Minister Reyes Maroto, who has informed him of the creation of a “mobility” task force made up of Spanish and British embassy teams to work on a joint solution.

Valencian president Ximo Puig wants to remove visa complications and freedom of movement restrictions for UK nationals in the region. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP
Valencian president Ximo Puig wants to remove visa complications and mobility restrictions for UK nationals in the region. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP
 

Since the start of 2021, Britons who are not in possession of a residency document from Spain or another EU/EEA country can only stay 90 days in any 180-day period within the Schengen Area, including in Spain.

The date of entry is considered as the first day of stay in the Schengen territory and the date of exit is considered as the last day of stay in the Schengen territory. It is possible to leave and re-enter the Schengen Area over that six-month period.

“The 180-day reference period is not fixed,” as the EU explains, “it is a moving window, based on the approach of looking backwards”.

READ ALSO: How Brits can properly plan their 90 out of 180 days in Spain and Schengen Area

Logically, the Schengen calculation system is confusing many Britons who never had to deal with it before, as well as giving them less flexibility and time in Spain. 

2020 estimates based on Spanish government data suggest the number of Britons who own property in Spain is anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

Many of these are part of the 380,000 full-year British residents in Spain whose rights are protected under the Withdrawal Agreement, but there are potentially hundreds of thousands more who don’t hold a Spanish residency document for legitimate reasons as they don’t spend more than 183 days a year in Spain and therefore aren’t fiscal residents.

These include Britons who own homes in Spain, who rent out a property, who visit for part of the year to spend time with family and friends, who avoid the cold winter months in the UK, and other types of part-year residents. Some should have registered as residents already, plenty of others were and are within their rights to be tax residents in the UK or elsewhere while spending part of the year in Spain. 

READ ALSO: Can second-home owners get a residence permit in Spain?

Britons who fall into this grey area of residency play a crucial economic role in many communities in Spain, especially in Alicante province where the Costa Blanca is located.

It’s therefore no surprise that Carlos Mazón, president of Alicante’s Provincial Council and Tourism Board, met in London with the Spanish Ambassador to the United Kingdom José Pascual Marco on Tuesday to address the situation of British residents in the province after Brexit.

“British residents in Alicante province are a source of wealth for us and one of our best ambassadors for the arrival of British tourism to the Costa Blanca,” Mazón told journalists after the meeting.

“They are fundamental and we are working on reciprocity so that they can also be in our territory for six months in a row when they come to visit us, as these are the conditions that apply for people from Alicante and Spain when they visit the United Kingdom.”

“We’ve launched a common action plan with which to put pressure, work with and achieve this goal, with a view to raising the matter with the British Government.”

Asked how he felt the meeting had gone, Mazón said “it has been very satisfactory and the ambassador is perfectly aware of one of the priorities of Spain’s most British province, with more than 70,000 British residents.”

“This is an urgent need for the tourist and economic interests of Alicante province,” he concluded.

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SPAIN AND THE UK

Liz Truss: What does the new UK PM mean for Brits in Spain?

Following the announcement that Liz Truss will replace Boris Johnson as the UK’s new Prime Minister, political correspondent Conor Faulkner analyses what this could mean for Brexit and the 400,000 UK nationals who reside in Spain.

Liz Truss: What does the new UK PM mean for Brits in Spain?

On Monday September 5th, it was announced that members of UK’s Conservative party had finally elected a new leader and thus a new Prime Minister, after Boris Johnson was forced to resign at the start of the summer.

Beating rival Rishi Sunak with 57 percent of the vote, just 80,000 Conservative party members elected the former Foreign Secretary as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

READ ALSO: ‘Iron weathercock’ – Europe reacts to Liz Truss becoming new UK PM

But what, if anything, does her election mean for Brexit and the 400,000 Britons living in Spain? 

Will she be a continuity politician or will she forge a new path (for better or worse) in British-European relations?

Truss the Remainer

During the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Liz Truss campaigned for Remain. “I don’t want my daughters to live in a world where they have to apply for a visa to work in Europe,” she famously said.

Having once been a member of the Liberal Democrats and decidedly more pro-European, Truss’s conversion to Euroscepticism came after she had voted Remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum.

Did the much hallowed Brexit benefits become clear to her in the aftermath of the result? Possibly. Or, as Brexit became a litmus test of loyalty and Conservatism, did her position shift to fit the intra-party politics of her party?

Although one may hope that her former pro-European positions might mean a softening in UK-EU relations in the post-Johnson era, Truss’s dependence on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative parliamentary party during her leadership campaign suggests she may be kneecapped in her ability to strike compromises with the EU.

Truss the Foreign Secretary

Owing to Truss’s tendency to be a bit of a political flip-flopper and change her positions at the whim of career progression, it is therefore quite difficult to predict her future behaviour with regards to Spain. We can, however, make some educated guesses based on her time as Foreign Secretary.

Going off her tenure in the Foreign Office, it seems Truss may view relations with Spain more positively than perhaps with other EU member states or the block as a whole.

In December 2021, Truss travelled to Madrid to meet with her then counterpart José Manuel Albares to build “closer economic, tech and security ties” with Spain, and to “support” the 400,000 Britons living in Spain. 

“We’re significant trading partners, with the UK as Spain’s biggest European investor,” she said, “and the UK as the top destination for Spanish investment. By boosting our trading ties even further, both Spain and every region and nation of the UK will benefit.”

Yet, Truss has also strongly hinted that she would be willing to overhaul Article 16 and put the Northern Ireland protocol at risk. If she is willing to jeopardise peace and potentially break international law to appease her political base in England, particularly within her own parliamentary party, one must wonder about the seriousness with which a few hundred thousand Brits up and down Spain’s costas will be taken. 

Reaction in Spain

Spain’s leading newspaper El País believes Truss will continue the populist strategy of Johnson. Truss was, even in her acceptance speech on Monday, loyal to her predecessor. 

She “promises citizens a rose-tinted future, without clarifying how she intends to achieve it”, the paper believes.

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, told The Local that she expects Truss to “carry on with the policies of Johnson, and be led, presumably, by the same right-wing forces of the Conservative Party.

“I suspect that, as far as what affects British citizens in Spain, that continuity will simply mean we remain invisible and left to our own devices,” Wilson added.

“Britons in Spain have been left in bureaucratic limbo since the Brexit vote six years ago. Whether it be the ongoing confusion over driving licenses or renewing residency or getting new TIE cards, many Britons abroad have felt abandoned by the UK government.”

Wilson and other members of Bremain in Spain will take part in the National Rejoin March in London on Saturday September 10th to “deliver a warning to the new PM about the impact of Brexit on the spiralling cost of living crisis in the UK”,  to express a “clear and loud message” that “Brexit has failed” and to promote “Rejoin the EU” as a “mainstream” call to action.

“For six years now, Brits living in Europe have been dealing with fear, uncertainty and stress, thanks to Brexit. We have already lost important rights, and many are concerned that even those secured could be at risk. Truss plans to proceed with the Protocol Bill which threatens the legally binding international treaty that secured those limited rights. In the process, she seems determined to do further damage to UK/EU relations and our international reputation.”

Anne Hernández, head of Brexpats in Spain, told The Local Spain: “Our problem as Brits in Spain might be if she actually applies Article 16, meaning a no deal Brexit, and she has threatened that. Although I’m not sure how that might affect our rights.”

The overriding feeling among UK nationals in Spain about Truss in No. 10 is the feeling of trepidation that Hernández describes.

With its fourth leader in six years and the third to take the helm of Britain in the post-Brexit world, for Brits abroad Truss’ rise to Downing Street has prolonged that uncertainty. 

With her apparent willingness to simply tear up internationally binding agreements, many will worry if the situation in Spain will be taken back to square one.

One would hope that her previously positive interactions with the Spanish state could mean that she lends a hand in resolving some of these lingering administrative issues affecting Britons in Spain, but the propensity to change her politics when it suits her make this unpredictable, and her reliance on Eurosceptic forces within her party make it unlikely.

How about Gibraltar?

This unpredictability could be of particular concern for UK nationals in Gibraltar. After voting Remain by a whopping 96 percent, the tiny British territory was not included in the main Brexit deal that came into effect from January 2021, and complicated multilateral negotiations between Gibraltar, London, Madrid and Brussels have rumbled on without resolution. 

Truss’ rhetoric on Gibraltar during her tenure as Foreign Secretary was as combative as her anti-EU talking points during the Tory leadership campaign, continuing the us-against-them language: “We will continue to defend the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”

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