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BREXIT

Spain-UK driving licence deal ‘likely by end of July’, says British Ambassador

The British Ambassador to Spain on Friday shared his latest update on the driving licence negotiations between the UK and Spain, indicating a possible agreement to have affected drivers back on the road by the end of July 2022.

hugh elliott uk licences
UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott acknowledged that even though a deal is likely weeks away, many have been facing great difficulties as a result of their inability to drive in Spain. Photo: Gov.uk

Another week, another update on the UK driving licence debacle in Spain. This time nonetheless, there’s perhaps a bit more reason for hope. 

In his weekly Facebook video update, British ambassador to Spain HMA Hugh Elliott started off with words that no doubt made the potentially thousands of UK licence holders in Spain who haven’t been able to drive for the past 50 days despair that bit further.

“We’re continuing to work every day on this,” Elliott said. “I know what you want to know is exactly when you’re going to be able to drive again and I still cannot give you a precise date I’m afraid”.

However, the ambassador was willing to share some insight into what they’ve “been doing in the negotiations”, “what the next steps we’re taking are” and, crucially, “what sort of timescale we’re talking about”. 

“The good news is that the UK and Spain are now in agreement on the core issues that have been problematic and we’re now very close to finalising the actual text of the agreement,” he explained.

“Once that’s happened, possibly as early as next week, there are various legal clearances, language checks and final political approvals that we and the Spanish need to go through,” he added. 

“The processes are not entirely in UK hands, which is partly why I can’t be more definitive and I can’t make promises. But our best estimate is that we’re looking at a date of having you back on the road around the end of July,” he stated.

As this is an international treaty, there are certain procedures they have to go through, Elliott pointed out, including the need for formal approval from the Spanish cabinet (Council of Ministers).

What remains unclear is whether Spanish authorities will treat this as a matter of urgency, and whether it will need further approval in the Spanish Parliament for the law to come into effect, as is usually the case in Spain (something which takes several weeks if not months).

Elliott acknowledged that even though a deal is likely weeks away, many have been facing great difficulties as a result of their inability to drive in Spain.

READ ALSO – ‘An avoidable nightmare’: How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The announcement comes after at least 18 months of negotiations and 4 extensions of the validity of UK licences granted by Spanish authorities, as well as countless updates by the British Embassy in Madrid. 

British residents in Spain have had mixed reactions to this latest June 17th update.

While many of the drivers affected remain very angry about the ongoing delay and don’t understand why there can’t be another extension which allows them to drive while the deal is finalised, others continue to show little sympathy for those in limbo, arguing that they should have registered to exchange their licence before the 2021 deadline.

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 there is a lot of anger.

Since May 1st 2022, thousands of UK licence holders who’ve resided in Spain for six months or more have been unable to drive with their UK licences, even though the vast majority of EU nations have long struck deals with the UK post-Brexit for the easy exchange of driving licences. 

They are a “minority” of the 407,000 UK nationals who are officially residents in 2022, as many of them did exchange their licence for a Spanish one before the deadline at the end of 2020 as advised. 

If a deal is indeed finalised by the end of July, they will have been unable to drive in Spain for almost three months.

The British Embassy in Madrid continues to advise residents who are unable to drive in Spain to explore local support options such as charities although Elliott did say “If you find yourself truly vulnerable or know somebody who is, do contact your local consulate”. 

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BANKING

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

UK nationals living in Spain have begun to receive letters from their bank telling them that their accounts will be closed, in an apparent post-Brexit change. Have you been affected?

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

Customers of Barclays Bank who are living in Spain and other EU countries have been receiving letters telling them that their UK accounts will be closed by the end of the year. 

A number of readers of The Local’s network of news websites have contacted us to report receiving either letters or messages in their online banking telling them that their accounts would be closed because of their residency in Spain or in other countries in the EU.

A Barclays spokesperson told The Local: “As a ring fenced bank, our Barclays UK products are designed for customers within the UK.

“We will no longer be offering services to personal current account or savings customers (excluding ISAs) within the European Economic Area. We are contacting impacted customers to give them advance notice of this decision and outline the next steps they need to take.”  

Customers are being given six months to make alternative arrangements. The changes affect all personal current accounts or savings accounts, but do not affect ISAs, loans or mortgages.

During the Brexit transition period Barclays closed Barclaycard accounts of customers in Spain, but did not indicate any changes to standard bank accounts.

READ MORE: 

Around the same time several other British high street banks began closing accounts of British customers who live in the EU, although with the exception of Barclaycard customers in Spain who were largely spared.

Many UK nationals who live in Spain maintain at least one UK bank account – in addition to a Spanish account – sometimes just for savings but others use their accounts regularly to receive income such as pensions or income from rental property or – for remote workers – to receive income for work done in the UK.

Not having a UK bank account can make financial transactions in the UK more complicated or incur extra banking fees.

READ MORE: What are the best UK banks for Brits in Spain?

Since Brexit, the UK banking sector no longer has access to the ‘passporting’ system which allows banks to operate in multiple EU countries without having to apply for a separate banking licence for each country.

And it seems that many UK high street banks are deciding that the extra paperwork is not worth the hassle and are withdrawing completely from certain EU markets. 

When British banks began withdrawing services from customers in the EU back in 2020, a UK government spokesman told British newspaper The Times that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a number of factors” so Brits in Spain probably shouldn’t hold their breath for any help from that direction.

READ ALSO: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account

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