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Brexit and Spain roundup: The impact on Spaniards, embassy strike and Gibraltar’s rubbish

This week we cover why northern Spain is particularly affected by Brexit, how strikes at Spain's embassy and consulates in the UK are having a negative impact on visa applications and why Brexit is proving to be a big stinky problem for Gibraltar.

Brexit and Spain roundup: The impact on Spaniards, embassy strike and Gibraltar's rubbish
The impact of Brexit on Spain - either directly on its economy or indirectly through events in Gibraltar or the UK - is undeniable. Photos: Jorge Guerrero/AFP, Andrés García/Pexels

Brexit costs each Spaniard €292 a year

Even though the economic impact of Brexit is mainly being felt in the United Kingdom (4 percent GDP loss in the long term according to recent estimates), most Spanish regions are also feeling the consequences of the UK’s exit from the EU. 

One would think that the most affected part of Spain would be the Valencia region, home to 85,000 resident Brits and Benidorm, Alicante and other coastal spots which have long been the favourite holiday destinations of UK tourists. 

The Valencian Institute of Economic Research (Ivie) has calculated that the drop in real GDP in the eastern region of five million people has been 0.07 percent, representing an average loss of €253 a year for each Valencian.

Interestingly however, the study focused primarily on the commercial impact of the drop in trade between Spain and the UK, and in the northern industrial regions of Navarre and the Basque Country inhabitants are losing a lot more in relative terms, €621 and €615 a year per capita respectively.

According to Ivie, Spain’s overall annual GDP loss as a result of Brexit is 0.08 percent, around €13.6 billion (€292 per capita), and in general the closer the regions are to the UK (those in northern Spain), the larger the impact, given that trade tends to increase based on proximity.

Brussels coughs up to help Spain confront impact of Brexit 

Continuing on from the previous section, the European Commission (EC) gave the green light on March 15th for Spain to receive €84.5 million as part of a fund to support the economic sectors and regions that are suffering the most from the effects of Brexit.

That’s roughly a tenth of the €812 million that 12 Member States will receive this month and to which will be added an additional €1.26 billion already approved for April 2023, of which Spain will be allocated another €130 million. 

UK licence validity ends

Last February, Spanish authorities for the fourth time extended the period of validity of UK driving licences in Spain until April 30th.

As this latest deadline nears, negotiations over the mutual exchange of licences continue with no deadline in sight after more than a year of talks. 

There hasn’t been any update from the UK embassy in Madrid since they confirmed the extension on February 23rd 2022.

UK licence holders in Spain can expect either an answer to whether they will have to sit their practical driving exams in Spanish soon or they will get another extension to the validity of their UK licences, the latter the more likely outcome based on previous events. 

No freedom of movement equals no travel for unvaccinated Brits

The Spanish government has again extended temporary restrictions for non-essential travel from most third countries for another month, until April 30th 2022, the umpteenth extension over the course of the pandemic. 

What this means is that most unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen adult travellers – including British tourists who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered – can still not visit Spain for tourism. 

It’s an indirect consequence of Brexit as unvaccinated EU tourists can visit Spain given their freedom of movement rights, something Britons who don’t reside in the EU no longer enjoy.

Spain was willing to bend its Covid travel rules to make an exception for unvaccinated British tourists for some months in 2021, but there is no sign as yet that they’ll be willing to do so again. 

Brexit has been a huge pile of rubbish for Gibraltar

In early March, as many as 6,000 tonnes of rubbish were piled up in The Rock, an unforeseen consequence of Brexit for most in Spain and the UK.

Until recently, Gibraltar had an agreement with nearby Spanish waste disposal companies to take away and process the small British Overseas Territory’s garbage under the EU framework.

But in February 2022 this straightforward deal broke down, as negotiations over Gibraltar’s relationship with Spain post-Brexit continued. 

The garbage piled up over the following weeks, environmentalists warned of the possible environmental catastrophe for the whole bay area and Gibraltarian authorities planned to start storing all the waste in World War II tunnels. 

The Cádiz-based organisation previously responsible for collecting Gibraltar’s rubbish has since agreed to transport the 6,000 tonnes of rubbish to a landfill in Los Barrios, but any breakdown in the ongoing talks regarding the transport of goods and people at The Rock could cause another holdup. 

Spanish Embassy in UK strike continues

Staff at Spain’s Embassy and Consulates in London, Manchester and Edinburgh have been on strike since March 14th over calls for better salaries and work conditions.

Although the strike has left hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards without the possibility of renewing their Spanish passports in the UK, it is also affecting the issuance of residency visas for Britons who want to move to Spain (now a requirement for them post-Brexit) given that there’s only a minimum provision of services currently.

Spanish consular staff have for months denounced the precarious situation in which they find themselves, their understaffed offices and salary freezes over the past thirteen years aggravated by the impact of Brexit on the British economy.

“In the last year alone, 21 workers have left their jobs permanently,” embassy staff wrote on their petition with the aim of getting Spain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry to act. 

“Until these posts are filled (a process that takes several months), the work falls on the rest of the workers, who cannot cope”.

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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?