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BREXIT

UK licences: What now for British drivers in Spain?

News that residents’ UK driving licences ceased to be valid on May 1st has left many Brits in Spain wondering what it means for them, if anything. The Local spoke to the UK Embassy in Spain to find out more about the hold-up in negotiations and what the driving test will involve.

UK licences: What now for British drivers in Spain?
Residents in Spain who after 6 months have either not exchanged their licence for a Spanish one or passed their Spanish driving test can be fined €200 by Spanish police if caught behind the wheel. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott posted a last-minute announcement last Friday evening, just hours before the April 30th deadline for UK licence validity, confirming one of the worst case scenarios for British driving licence holders living in Spain.

”If you have been resident in Spain for longer than six months, your UK-issued licence will no longer be valid to drive here from May 1st (2022),” Elliott said in a Facebook video.

“We’re not there just yet. And we will not have reached an agreement in time for the end of the current grace period (April 30th),” he added about the ongoing talks between Spanish and British authorities.

How many UK licence holders resident in Spain cannot drive now?

“The majority of UK licence holders in Spain registered their intent to exchange, as they were advised to, before December 31st 2020,” the UK Embassy in Madrid told The Local Spain. 

“They are therefore unaffected.”

There are no official stats on how many Britons exactly – of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 – are now unable to drive because their UK licences are no longer valid. This also affects people of other nationalities who are residents in Spain and hold UK driving licences.

The UK Embassy told The Local that this will primarily affect three groups:

  • UK licence holders who are long-term residents in Spain and did not exchange or register their intent to exchange, as advised, before the end of the transition period (December 31st 2020).
  • UK licence holders who did register their intent to exchange before the end of the transition period, but did not complete the exchange process by April 30th.
  • UK licence holders who have arrived as residents in Spain after December 31st 2020 and have been residents in Spain for longer than 6 months.

This also applies to Gibraltar licence holders who are resident in Spain,” embassy sources point out. 

It’s worth remembering also that this announcement does not affect visiting motorists from the UK or Gibraltar or UK licence holders who have just moved to Spain (first six months of residency), or British tourists visiting Spain. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

What will UK licence holders living in Spain have to do now?

Negotiations are ongoing so there is a possibility that UK licence holders living in Spain will regain their driving rights without having to sit their driving exam again in Spain.

However, the advice from the Embassy for those most affected is to start preparations to get a Spanish driving licence.

“If you are affected by this change and need to drive, you should not wait for the outcome of the negotiations and should take immediate steps to apply for a Spanish licence – as we have been advising for some time now,” they stated on the Facebook group Brits in Spain.

“Driving a vehicle without a valid licence is illegal in Spain,” the UK Embassy has stressed.

So if residents whose UK licences ceased to be valid in Spain on May 1st 2022 were to still drive and be stopped by Spanish police, they face a €200 fine, according to Spanish road law CON 001 1 5B.

An international driving permit is not a way to get around this problem.

What will the Spanish driving test involve for UK licence holders?

There has been some confusion over whether UK licence holders who couldn’t exchange would have to do only the practical test, or the theory as well, in the increasingly likely event that they will have to sit their Spanish driving test. 

The UK Embassy in Madrid has clarified that the Spanish driving exam includes taking both a theory and practical test, which would be applicable to UK licence holders getting their Spanish licences, as it is for other non-EU licence holders six months after they move to Spain.

“In addition to taking these tests, you will be required to provide a psychophysical aptitude report from an authorised Driver Centre and pay a fee,” the UK Embassy told The Local Spain.

“Most people choose to prepare for the theory and practical tests using the services of an official driving school. However, you are not obliged to do so.”

One of the main concerns for drivers who didn’t manage to exchange their licences, especially those who are not fluent in Spanish, is that the practical test is always carried out with a Spanish-speaking examiner. You may however find driving schools with English-speaking instructors.

The theory test can be done in English.

READ ALSO:

Why have negotiations taken so long?

The vast majority of EU nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and mutual exchange of licences. 

But after more than a year of negotiations and four grace periods, there is still no ‘Spanish deal’ and no more extensions to give UK licence holders.

“The UK Government asked the Spanish Government for an extension in early April but unfortunately this has not been possible,” the UK Embassy told The Local. 

“We are continuing negotiations at pace and are asking for interim measures to be put in place by the Spanish, to minimise the disruption on UK licence holders.

Ambassador Hugh Elliott added that UK and Spanish authorities had agreed to “rapidly accelerate talks” during the week of May 2nd to May 8th.

So what’s the reason behind the hold-up?

“Every negotiation is different,” the UK Embassy told The Local.

“In this instance, Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the agreement. 

“This was not requested by other EU Member States and is part of Spain’s nationwide ambition to improve road safety. As such, this has naturally taken more time than all the other agreements which the UK has been able to complete.

READ MORE:

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

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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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