On Thursday June 2nd, HMA Hugh Elliott took to his almost weekly Facebook video update on the UK driving licences debacle just as the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations were underway in the United Kingdom, acknowledging that for many Brits in Spain “celebrations won’t be the same because of your inability to drive”.
Since May 1st 2022, thousands of UK licence holders in Spain (a “minority” of the 407,000 UK nationals who are officially residents in 2022) cannot drive on their UK licences.
This comes after at least 17 months of negotiations, 4 extensions to the validity of UK licences granted by Spanish authorities and countless updates by the British Embassy in Madrid.
READ ALSO: What now UK licence holders in Spain?
The failure to reach an agreement for the mutual exchange of driving licences between the UK and Spain, a problem long resolved across almost all EU nations, means the UK licences of drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for six months haven’t been valid for over a month now.
No more extensions, just a state of limbo where those who can’t drive are not sure whether to wait for a deal or prepare for their Spanish driving test if they must drive.
This is as you may have guessed a direct consequence of the UK’s departure from the EU, but the extremely long holdup is one that baffles the mind for most Brits in Spain.
There is also little sympathy in the British community for those who didn’t exchange and are now stuck, as it has been known for several years that the intent to exchange licences had to be registered before 2021.
However, there is evidence that many have fallen between the cracks through no fault of their own, and for those who rely on their cars to live a normal life in Spain (rural or another setting), the situation is getting desperate and has boiled over into anger.
The UK Embassy even shared a separate post in which it reminded followers of the Brits in Spain group that “personal and offensive comments are not acceptable” while acknowledging that “that many of you are anxious and angry about the ongoing driving licence negotiations”.
What’s new on UK licences in Spain in early June 2022?
There may be no deal on UK licences to report yet and HMA Elliott did stress that “unfortunately, I simply can’t go into lots of details or give a running commentary of what is an ongoing negotiation”, but the UK ambassador did offer some extra insight into three of the main questions the embassy has received:
Why not give Spain what it wants?
“Firstly, on data provision. So lots of you have contacted us to say that you’re very happy for your data to be shared if that means getting you back on the road,” Elliott said.
“So I need to clarify, the data that Spain is seeking relates largely to those visiting Spain and driving on their UK licences, rather than the data of residents. Now I recognise this is all the more frustrating if you’re a resident, but the better news is that we will be able to resolve this issue.”
The British Embassy had previously explained the holdup was down to Spain asking for UK driver data provision, something other EU Member States hadn’t requested. This time Elliott went into more detail about what exactly Spain is requesting.
Judging by the comments on the video, many of those affected continue to struggle to understand why withholding such data is deemed more important than resolving an issue affecting actual residents in Spain.
Why is there not another extension to UK licence validity?
“You also asked why the interim measure that allowed you to drive on your UK licence can’t be reinstated,” Elliott continued.
“Now this is of course something that we asked Spain for, but the fact is that they haven’t agreed to it.
“The more positive news is that Spain has agreed to a clause that will allow everyone back on the road from the moment the agreement is signed, for a period of up to six months to allow people time to exchange their licences during that period”.
Needless to say, this final point has several commentators reading into what the details of a possible exchange would be and if there won’t be a limitless period of exchange for new arrivals.
Back on May 12th, Elliott did say “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”.
Will there be an agreement and when?
“So first of all, I can’t make any promises on exact timings because we’re still in the negotiations and there are no cast iron guarantees,” Elliott stressed.
“But yet I am confident that we will reach an agreement. We are genuinely in the final stages, I expect it to take a matter of weeks, not months.
“It’s our top priority here at the embassy and we’re working together with our colleagues in London, of course in order to fix this as quickly as we can”.
The British Ambassador has stated on several occasions that he is “confident” a deal can be reached. Additionally, the fact that this time he did not state that those for whom it’s “imperative to drive” in Spain should take steps to apply for the Spanish driving test, has some Brits in Spain believing the outcome will be positive.
It’s not the first time either that HMA Elliott says a deal will be reached “soon” or “in weeks” or that talks will be “rapidly accelerating”.
As things stand, it’s impossible for The Local Spain – which has been reporting on the issues surrounding the exchange of UK licences in Spain since the very beginning – to truly forecast what will happen, when and what the exchange deal will consist of.
Is that ¿Qué será, será? playing the background?
If you want to sign the official petition calling for the mutual recognition of UK and Spanish driving licences, click here. At 10,000 signatures, the UK government will respond to this petition.