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BREXIT

Driving licences: UK ambassador says hold up could be resolved ‘in coming weeks’

The UK Embassy in Spain on Friday laid out some useful information but gave no estimated date for the long-awaited deal on the exchange of UK driving licences. However, Ambassador Hugh Elliott said the hold-up could be solved “in the coming weeks”.

uk licences exchange spain
The wait for a licence exchange agreement is proving very troublesome for people in rural areas, those with mobility difficulties and others who need a car for daily life. Photo: Andreas Strandman/Unsplash

On Friday October 14th, the British Embassy in Madrid published its latest update on the driving licence debacle which has kept an unnamed number of UK licence holders living in Spain off the roads since May 1st.

More than five months since that date, Spanish and British authorities are still unable to reach an agreement during negotiations that have lingered on for at least two years now.

The latest ‘news’ included in Friday’s Facebook post is that “Ministers raised the issue again with their Spanish counterparts during our annual UK/Spain “Tertulias” summit last weekend in Oxford and we have continued to make progress on the outstanding points this week”. 

But there was still no exact date or rough timescale provided to give affected drivers an idea of when they can drive again in Spain, a situation which is proving very troublesome for people in rural areas, those with mobility difficulties and others who need a car for daily life.

However, in an interview with Spanish daily El Periódico de España published on the same day, UK Ambassador Hugh Elliott stated “I trust that in the coming weeks we’ll be able to resolve the remaining problems”. 

It was also the first time that Elliott gave an estimate of how many people may be affected by the driving licences debacle: “It’s a very unfortunate situation, with thousands of British residents in Spain who are currently unable to drive.”

On the embassy’s Facebook page, the reactions to the post have been mixed, with some calling for a “proper update” or for the embassy to be more candid about the reasons for the hold-up and a timescale.

“We appreciate you would like to understand exactly what the hold-up is, but as we have said before, there are some details we cannot go into, as that could risk derailing the negotiations – which is the last thing that any of us want,” the UK Embassy stressed.

The UK Embassy in Spain did mention that they will be “meeting one of the groups specifically lobbying on this issue to discuss their, and your, concerns”. 

This is the “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” group, whose head Pascal Siegmund is due to sit down with Hugh Elliott along with three other members of the group on October 18th.

The rest of the British Embassy’s Facebook post was made up of a Q&A confirming certain information and providing extra detail with regards to doubts such as how the exchange agreement would become legislation, who the deal will cover, appointment availability for licence exchanges and other matters. We’ve included it word for word below.

Note that the UK Embassy isn’t suggesting the deal isn’t 100 percent certain anymore, nor recommended that people who need to drive take their Spanish driving test rather than wait. 

That doesn’t mean that they won’t change their rhetoric, they have done so previously, but it does seem that as things stand it’s more a case of when rather than if there will be an agreement for the exchange of UK licences into Spanish ones.

What happens once the agreement is final?

“Once the negotiation teams have agreed on the text, it will then go forward for final legal and political approvals. On the Spanish side, this means going through the ‘Consejo de Ministros’ (Spanish Cabinet). On the UK side, it will be approved by relevant Ministers.

Then it will be published in the BOE (state bulletin) and should come into force the same day. You will then have six months to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one (without having to take a test) and during that time you will be able to drive using your valid UK licence.” 

Will the agreement only apply to those who were here before the end of 2020 and registered their intent to exchange? 

No. The agreement will apply to anyone holding a UK licence, whether they were here before the end of 2020 or whether they move here in the future.

Will there be enough appointments within that six months? 

It will be for the Spanish Government to administer the process and ensure the provision of appointments. This is something we have raised throughout negotiations and Spain is conscious of the potential number of UK nationals who may need to exchange during the six-month window. 

We would encourage you to get an appointment as soon as you can and not leave it until the last minute, remembering that you do not have to exchange in the town/region where you are resident if there is greater availability elsewhere. 

Do I have to complete the exchange process within six months of the agreement coming into effect?  

No, but you will only be able to drive on your UK licence during this six-month window. After that, you can complete the exchange, but will not be able to drive on your UK licence while you are waiting to do so. 

My UK licence has expired. Will I still be able to get a Spanish licence without taking a test? 

The fact that some people’s licences have expired, or are about to, has been taken into account by the negotiating team. Expired licences shall be accepted provided that they were valid at the time that the licence holder entered Spain.

I renewed my UK licence with the DVLA when I was already resident in Spain. Can I still exchange it without taking a test? 

All valid UK licences issued prior to this Agreement entering into force can be exchanged. However, you should not renew your UK licence with the DVLA if you are no longer resident in the UK. 

Once the Agreement is in place, you must not try to renew a UK licence with the UK authorities if you are resident in Spain. If you do so, you will not be able to exchange it for a Spanish one.

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BREXIT

How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Spain?

Following the news that Denmark plans to deport a UK national who failed to apply for post-Brexit residence status in time, we look at how Spain and other EU countries have applied residency permit rules following the UK's official withdrawal.

How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Spain?

Phil Russell, a UK national who lives in Denmark with his Danish partner, submitted an application for a post-Brexit residence permit four days after the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

Russell has since been informed he must leave the country by December 6th but has the right to appeal the decision. He has notified authorities that he intends to appeal and his residence and working rights in Denmark are protected while the appeal is ongoing.

Under Denmark’s application of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, British nationals who moved to Denmark under EU free movement rules before December 31st, 2020 were required to submit an application for new residence status and a new residence document by the end of 2021.

Up to September 30th, Danish authorities have received 290 late applications for post-Brexit continued residency status.

Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.

Below, we look at how Denmark’s approach to the post-Brexit residency process compares to Spain’s and other EU countries.

Spain

Compared to Denmark, Spanish authorities have been lenient with how Brits can guarantee their Withdrawal Agreement rights.

In July 2020, they introduced a new type of TIE card (the residency document for non-EU nationals in Spain) which stipulates their WA rights. 

More than two years on, it isn’t compulsory for UK nationals living in Spain who already had the EU green residence certificate to exchange it for a TIE, but they have been advised to do so as the new ID is biometric and can avoid any issues with airport officials not recognising the old photo-less document.

The main problems that have arisen have been for under-the-radar Britons who never registered prior to Brexit coming into effect on January 1st 2021, and others who have been unable to prove they were living in Spain before that date.

READ MORE: Why some residency applications by Britons in Spain are rejected (and how to appeal)

In September 2021, we covered how some people in that situation had been told to leave at (sometimes very) short notice and apply for a non-EU residency visa such as the non-lucrative visa if their residency application is rejected.

But as Age in Spain – one of the other groups currently helping Britons with residency applications and appeals – told The Local Spain: “In our experience, rejection of residency applications is actually quite unusual”.

However, unregistered applicants have been asked to show more paperwork and proof than those who were just exchanging their green certificates for TIEs.

There is no evidence that Spain has deported any UK nationals. In fact, Spanish authorities actively sought to dispel myths about this propagated in the UK tabloids.

There are now more than 407,000 UK nationals who are currently registered in Spain in 2022, a number which has increased by at least 30,000 since 2021 (how many are still under the radar is unknown). 

This increase reflects the wide coverage and advice that the UK embassy and English-language media and forums have provided to unregistered Brits, as well as the overall tolerant and helpful attitude of Spanish migration authorities. 

Sweden

On its website, the Swedish Migration Agency says it “can accept an application for residence status that has come in after” its deadline which, like in Denmark, was December 31st 2021.

“This presupposes that there are reasonable grounds for why you did not apply in time. A review will be done of each individual case,” the agency says.

People with permanent residence permits have the right to continue to stay in Sweden as usual even after the deadline, according to the Migration Agency. Those with temporary residence permits in Sweden may need to apply for a work permit.

The Swedish rules have nevertheless caused some uncertainty for resident Britons.

According to a section on the Migration Agency website, post-Brexit residence status “applies indefinitely”. The certificate which was issued to those who applied before the deadline of December 31st 2021, however, is only valid for five years. 

This has left many of those holding the certificate concerned that laws might change to prevent them from renewing their certificate when that period ends. 

READ ALSO:

France

Like Denmark, application for a post-Brexit residence card was required in France.

In June 2021, the French government extended the deadline to apply for residency for British nationals.

France extended its deadline due to high demand and new Covid-19 restrictions in 2021, and because French authorities were aware many Britons were unlikely to meet the original deadline.

All Brits who were living in France before December 30th 2020 needed to apply for a residency permit known as a carte de séjour. The official deadline to do so was Wednesday, June 30th.

However with an estimated 25,000 Brits still to apply and thousands more still waiting for their application to be processed, French authorities decided to extend the deadline to September 30th, 2021. 

Italy

Italy’s post-Brexit card isn’t mandatory but the British Embassy in Italy advises residents to apply for it to prove their status under the Withdrawal Agreement.

This means you don’t need a residency card if you have alternative proof of pre-Brexit residency.

However, while Italian authorities have often accepted other forms of proof, they have also sometimes required the card, causing some level of uncertainty.

READ ALSO: How many of Italy’s British residents have successfully applied for a post-Brexit residency card?

Germany

Residence rights after Brexit were automatically granted to British nationals who lived in Germany prior to the deadline, so they don’t need Germany’s residence card – although it is still recommended-

There have been reports of passport stamping for British residents in Germany, even if they have the residence card.

Overall, Germany has a lenient system, transferring rights automatically and without demand application for a new card or updated residence status.

READ ALSO: How Brits can prove their post-Brexit rights in Germany – before they get their residence card

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’s Article 5 states that the EU and UK must “take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising from this Agreement and shall refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Agreement.”

One of the stated objectives of the agreement is to protect the rights of citizens to continue living and working in their respective countries after Brexit.

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