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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Britons in Spain compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Spain wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Spanish licences post-Brexit, we look at how their situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

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The vast majority of EU countries have reached deals with the UK over the exchange of driving licences post-Brexit. Photo: Pexels/Pixabay

In late February 2022, Spanish authorities extended once again the period of validity of UK driving licences in Spain, giving some respite to British licence holders as negotiations over the mutual exchange of licences continued for another two months.

The April 30th deadline is now here and the British Embassy in Madrid is set to make an announcement to confirm whether there will be a fifth extension or an agreement over the mutual exchange of Spanish and British driving licences post-Brexit, or the failure to reach such a deal.

Thinking optimistically, could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Spain – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Spain – able to continue using their UK licences in Spain or easily exchange them for Spanish ones without having to sit a driving test?

It’s hard to say as so little has been disclosed about negotiations and the reasons for the holdups, but for several months now the UK embassy has been advising those who must drive whatever the outcome to consider sitting their Spanish driving exam in anticipation.

If a deal wasn’t reached then UK licence holders would reportedly only have to sit their driving test again (theory and practical), and the examen práctico is always conducted by a Spanish-speaking examiner, a concern for British resident drivers who aren’t fluent in Spanish. 

“We remain fully committed to reaching a long-term agreement with Spain,” the British Embassy in Madrid wrote on Facebook in late 2021. 

“So that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Spanish licence holders can in the UK and as UK licence holders can in the vast majority of other EU member states”. 

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the ‘Spanish deal’ is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Spain and Italy are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing. 

However, UK driving licences remain valid in Italy until the end of 2022, so drivers who were living in Italy before the start of 2022 have more time to sit their Italian driving test in the event that a deal isn’t reached, or conversely they have more time to wait and see what happens. 

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In neighbouring Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Spain and Italy as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why did Spain have to have a system in place that required UK licence holders to register their intent to exchange a whole year before Brexit came into force? 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Spain before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal between two allies with such close economic and social links?

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get your driving licence in Spain?

Member comments

  1. Can’t understand why British resident s living in Spain find it so hard to comply with doing what they have been given enough notice to complete.
    I have been in Spain now for 4 years changed my licence no problem applied for the new residency card when told it was available to apply for no problem filled on simple form when to police station 4 weeks later went back and picked up new residency card.
    It seems to me that a lot of Brits living over here can’t be botherd to comply to the rules and most of the should have changed there driving licence years ago but as usual they bury their head in the sand and now complain that they have to now take a driving test.

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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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