Updated 12 April: The FCO has released the following open letter from HMA Simon Manley to British citizens living in Spain.
I’m sure you have been following recent developments in the Brexit negotiations very closely, so I wanted to give you a quick update about what all of this means for British people living here in Spain.
The European Council has agreed what is being called a “flexible extension” to the process of our departure from the European Union, until 31 October. Flexible, because if the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by both the UK and the European Parliaments before then, we will leave on the first day of the month after that approval.
So for example, if we pass a deal in the first three weeks of May, the UK will leave the European Union on the first of June. That would also mean we won’t take part in elections to the European Parliament. If, however, a deal is not passed by that point, European Parliamentary elections will take place in the UK. And if you are registered to vote in European elections here in Spain, then you should be able to do so.
I understand all of this is unsettling and frustrating for many of you. You want to know on what terms we are going to leave the European Union and what that may mean for you as a UK national living in Spain. During this extension period, the UK remains a full member of the EU and consequently your existing rights will not change. So, for example, your rights to healthcare, to residency and to travel throughout the EU, remain exactly as they are today.
Nonetheless, during this extension period, as we prepare to leave the European Union, it remains really important to ensure that you are correctly registered. I understand, however, that many of you are finding it difficult to get appointments. Let me assure you that we are talking with the Spanish authorities about this. Meanwhile, the Spanish Government has advised that if you can’t get an appointment now, you should make sure that you’ve got proof that you were living here before we leave the European Union, whether that be a padrón certificate or utility bills. The Spanish Government also advises on their Moncloa website on Brexit contingency measures, to keep checking for new appointments to become available. Should we leave the EU with a deal, as we very much hope, you will have until the end of the Implementation Period, currently set at 31 December 2020, to register, if you have not done so already. Should we, however, leave without a deal, as could still happen, the Spanish Government has said you will have a 21-month grace period from the date of our departure to register.
You can also prepare by signing up for email alerts for our Living in Spain guide on gov.uk or by joining our Brits in Spain Facebook community, where you can also find some videos on what you need to do to prepare for Brexit on issues such as registration, driving licences, healthcare and travel.
I wish you and your families a very happy Easter.
Updated 11 April: The UK was granted an extension to 31 October late last night at the EU Council summit. There will be a “good behaviour review” in June, which is when French President Emmanuel Macron wanted the extension actually to end. Instead, the UK has six months to avoid a Halloween No Deal. How this will go down in the Palace of Westminster is anyone’s guess, with frustration at the middling extension likely both from those who wanted a long one, and those who wanted a short.
Perhaps most relieved will be those who don’t want Brexit at all. Six and a half months is, conceivably, enough time for them to organize a straight second referendum, or a cobbled-together plan put to the people for a further confirmatory/People’s Vote, or a General Election … and doubtless in the mix somewhere will be talk of a Conservative leadership challenge or change. And of course, towards the end of the period come the UK’s party political conferences.
One thing outside the UK seems clear, and that is that Emmanuel Macron has not won too many friends tonight in European diplomatic and political circles. If his resistance to a long extension, which won through, does end up delivering no Brexit, however, they will undoubtedly be pleased with him again, and given the space now for “a rethink” such as Donald Tusk was advocating even though he argued for a longer space of time, some are seeing Brexit slip sliding away. That possibility will of course not be lost on the Brexiteers in Parliament, whose reaction can only be guessed at … ideally from a distance, within a concrete bunker …
Updated 7 April: British Prime Minister Theresa May has made the following statement as the UK enters what could be its last week in the EU, with a deadline on Friday, if an extension cannot be agreed, that will see the UK leave the EU with whatever arrangements are put in place over the next five days, or with no deal at all.
Delivering Brexit has been my priority ever since I became Prime Minister and it remains so today. I want the UK to leave the EU in an orderly way as soon as possible and that means leaving in a way that does not disrupt people’s lives.
My strong preference was to do that by winning a majority in Parliament for the agreement the UK reached with the EU last November. I did everything in my power to persuade the Conservative and DUP MPs who form the government’s majority to back that deal – including securing legally-binding changes to address MPs’ concerns with it.
But that deal was rejected three times by Parliament and there is no sign it can be passed in the near future. So I had to take a new approach.
Because Parliament has made clear it will stop the UK leaving without a deal, we now have a stark choice: leave the European Union with a deal or do not leave at all.
My answer to that is clear: we must deliver Brexit and to do so we must agree a deal. If we cannot secure a majority among Conservative and DUP MPs we have no choice but to reach out across the House of Commons.
The referendum was not fought along party lines and people I speak to on the doorstep tell me they expect their politicians to work together when the national interest demands it. The fact is that on Brexit there are areas where the two main parties agree: we both want to end free movement, we both want to leave with a good deal, and we both want to protect jobs.
That is the basis for a compromise that can win a majority in Parliament and winning that majority is the only way to deliver Brexit.
The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all. It would mean letting the Brexit the British people voted for slip through our fingers. I will not stand for that. It is essential we deliver what people voted for and to do that we need to get a deal over the line.
To achieve this I will go to Brussels this week to seek a short extension to Article 50. My intention is to reach an agreement with my fellow EU leaders that will mean if we can agree a deal here at home we can leave the EU in just six weeks.
We can then get on with building a new relationship with our nearest neighbours that will unlock the full potential of Brexit and deliver the brighter future that the British people voted for.
Updated 4 April: The Spanish Government’s Royal Decree detailing No Deal Brexit contingency measures was approved last night by Congress. This will provide UK nationals legally resident in Spain with a 21-month window to register for their new TIE (third country national foreigner ID card) in a system whose details will be announced in due course but which is promised to be “virtually automatic”. The TIE will be a replacement for the green Certificado de Registro, which is why it is essential for British nationals living in Tenerife to be legally registered with the police before the point of Brexit, whenever that might be … possibly next Friday 12 April if there’s no solution to the current impasse. For more information, see the government’s website HERE.
Updated 29 March: This was to have been Brexit Day, but instead it has seen the House of Commons reject Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement on leaving the EU. The House will now reconsider on Monday whether there are alternatives it could coalesce around in a procedure started earlier this week by Sir Oliver Letwin, and if not, whether or not it should revoke Article 50 to avoid the No Deal situation it has already said it will not permit.
Within minutes of the votes, Jeremy Corbyn called for the PM to go and set the date for a General Election. The ERG has called for Theresa May to go even though it voted heavily in favour of accepting the deal – the deal its leaders Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker and Mark Francois had excoriated. It is rumoured strongly in Westminster and Brussels that they did so only so that May would keep her promise and go, and then they intended to install an “ultra” Brexiteer in her place and void the deal they had supported.
Other speakers after the result was announced called for a long extension or a People’s Vote, while the SNP’s Ian Blackford suggested revoking Article 50 to “put the brake on”. Of course revoking Article 50 is not a brake to buy time: once Article 50 is revoked that is it. Some MPs and even London mayor Sadiq Khan have called in the minutes following the result’s announcement for revocation followed by a people’s vote but that is impossible because article 50 cannot be revoked simply to buy time. Revoking is something that the ECJ itself has ruled must be “unequivocal and unconditional”. It is a one-off decision, for good.
Meanwhile the breakaway Labour and Conservative MPs who formed the independent grouping TIG have today applied to become a full political party – Change UK. They want to be ready for any and all elections coming up, including the European elections if the UK does take part in them, and a putative General Election if one is called in desperation by the Government under whoever happens to be leading it at the time.
Whatever happens now one thing is clear: the UK has lost the EU’s extension to 22 May, and Brexit will now happen on 12 April with an extraordinarily tight schedule to find any options that MPs might be able to get a majority for and which could avoid No Deal. Even if they do find them, they will be at the mercy of the EU, and whether it will agree the inevitably necessary extension for whatever plan Parliament can come up with. If they refuse an extension for a plan or if MPs fail actually to find one, Brexit will occur automatically at the end of 12 April.
Updated 28 March: MPs have rejected every option put to them through the indicative votes held last night, votes which were meant to indicate what MPs could support if it came to it. All yesterday has clarified is that they support nothing. The Government is today looking to see if it can find a way of bringing MV3 back to the Commons tomorrow that will comply with the Speaker’s requirement for it to have changed substantially from when it was put to the House as MV2: if they approve it, we have Brexit on 22 May; if they reject it, we are back in chaos with the clock counting down to No Deal at the close of 12 April, just a fortnight away.
That at least is something that did become clarified yesterday. The legal procedure required to extend Brexit formally, as Parliament was required to do after agreement between Theresa May and the EU, was known as a Statutory Instrument, and that was passed yesterday … though 30 three-line-whipped Conservative MPs defied the Government and voted against it despite being faced with warnings from the Whips Office that voting it down would plunge the UK not just into further Brexit-related constitutional chaos but into deep and intractable legal problems. It passed, anyway, and so Brexit is now 12 April … without a deal unless MPs approve the Withdrawal Agreement in another Meaningful Vote (MV3) or come up with some solution to resolve the impasse.
They are sitting tomorrow even though they don’t usually sit on Fridays, and indeed have lost the first week of their Easter break … they are there until they resolve this, or until the clock counts down to No Deal on 12 April, whichever is sooner.
Updated 26 March: You will read a lot today about MPs “taking back control” of Brexit in Parliament last night. As with other claims of “taking back control”, the reality doesn’t always match up to the hype, and what MPs have actually taken control of is not Brexit, but the timetable of Parliamentary business which will see them discuss and vote on an alternative type of Brexit to that offered by the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government and the EU.
What this means is that over the next few days MPs will hold a series of what they call indicative votes, being a means of indicating (hence “indicative”) the options which Parliament could, if it came to it, coalesce around and approve. These options could include remaining in the single market or the customs union, or they could include a second referendum or a general election. But they will only be indicative – and even if the Government acknowledges them fully, they won’t be “approved” until voted on as actual measures in their own right. These votes are merely to see what MPs could approve, not what they do approve.
In fact, as different ministers including the PM herself have now said several times, the Government doesn’t want MPs to have the control, doesn’t think indicative votes are either useful or effective, and if they result in MPs agreeing they could support a measure that’s not in the Conservative Party’s last election manifesto, then the Government will simply ignore them. That, of course, could cause constitutional upheaval on a scale we have not yet seen and at least one MP has said that in such a case MPs would pass legislation instantly to force the Government to take notice of Parliament’s view whether or not it’s in their Tory manifesto, though it is not immediately clear how MPs themselves could force through such legislation.
Others are saying that they are now intent on taking further emerging considerations and possible action in light of the clear evidence now that Cabinet and the Government are only concerned with the Conservative Party rather than the country. Where this might lead is another thing but it is indicative itself of the way in which the Government seems to be unable to get any traction for what actually matters – stability and assurance for the country, its economy, its nationals in the UK or the EU, and EU nationals within the UK.
At present, with Meaningful Vote 3 postponed because of lack of support and May’s inability to reconcile the irreconcilable, and without any immediate sign of an actual decision that achieves something concrete coming out of Parliament, the UK has just over 16 days left in the EU before it leaves with No Deal.
Updated 25 March: The European Union has issued a statement entitled “Brexit preparedness: EU completes preparations for possible “no-deal” scenario on 12 April”. It says that since “it is increasingly likely that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a deal on 12 April, the European Commission has today completed its “no-deal” preparations. At the same time, it continues supporting administrations in their own preparations and urges all EU citizens and businesses to continue informing themselves about the consequences of a possible “no-deal” scenario and to complete their no-deal preparedness. This follows the European Council (Article 50) conclusions last week calling for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency. While a “no-deal” scenario is not desirable, the EU is prepared for it.”
The EU continues that although it hopes it won’t happen, if as seems likely the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified by Parliament before this Friday – the original Brexit deadline of 29 March – the UK wil crash out of the EU with no deal on 12 April. The EU says that it has prepared for this scenario which would see the UK become a third country without any transitionary arrangements. All EU primary and secondary law would cease instantly to apply to the UK from that moment. Without a deal there will be no transition period, as provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU says, a situation which would obviously cause significant disruption for citizens and businesses.
In such a scenario, the UK’s relations with the EU would be governed by general international public law, including rules of the World Trade Organisation, with the EU immediately applying its rules and tariffs at its borders with the UK including customs checks and controls, sanitary and phytosanitary standards and verification of compliance with EU norms. Despite the considerable preparations of the Member States’ customs authorities, these controls could cause significant delays at the border. UK entities would also cease to be eligible to receive EU grants and to participate in EU procurement procedures under current terms.
Similarly, UK citizens will no longer be citizens of the European Union. They will be subject to additional checks when crossing borders into the European Union. Again, Member States have made considerable preparations at ports and airports to ensure that these checks are done as efficiently as possible, but they may nevertheless cause delays.
The full statement with a series of links to supporting documents, information, and advice, is HERE (if there’s a problem with the link please just remove the “s” from the “https” in the URL).
Updated 3pm: The UK’s Ambassador to Spain Simon Manley has written this open letter to British nationals living in the country.
An open letter from HMA Simon Manley to British citizens living in Spain
I’m sure you have been watching events closely, both in Brussels and in London, so I wanted to give you a quick update about what all of this means for British people living here in Spain.
Following the recent votes in the House of Commons and then the ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons not to allow another vote on the Withdrawal Agreement this week, PM Theresa May requested an extension until 30th June this year from our European colleagues.
Last night the European Council agreed an extension of our exit date to 22nd May, assuming that the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the House of Commons doesn’t approve the Withdrawal Agreement next week, then the European Council decided that the Withdrawal date will be the 12th April. So the House of Commons will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement early next week.
I understand that all this is unsettling for many of you. You want to know on what terms and when the UK is going to leave the EU.
At this moment, leaving under the Withdrawal Agreement agreed back in November or leaving without a deal both remain possibilities. The exit date will be either 12th April or 22nd May, depending on what happens in Parliament next week.
As the situations develops, I and our consular teams across Spain will, of course, keep you updated.
But for now, please ensure you know how to prepare for Brexit by signing up for our Living in Spain guide on gov.uk and by joining our Brits in Spain Facebook community, where you can watch our videos on what you need to do to prepare, deal or no deal, for our departure from the European Union.
Update from @SimonManleyFCO on recent political developments in Brussels and London related to our exit from the EU, and what it means for British people living in Spain. The UK government’s top priority is to leave the EU with a deal. pic.twitter.com/h9qeMQzpPe
— BritslivinginSpain (@BritsliveSpain) March 22, 2019
Updated 22 March: As part of the new outreach programme devised by the British Consulate’s new Brexit officer, Deepika Harjani, there will be another Brexit information meeting following the one this morning in the Golf del Sur. The next one will be at 2pm on Friday 29 March – the day the UK was originally supposed to be leaving the EU. It will be held in Callao Salvaje’s Community Church in Sueño Azul – details on the poster.
Updated 11pm: Donald Tusk confirmed last night that the European Council has agreed to a Brexit extension to 22 May provided MV3 succeeds in the House of Commons next week (link to declaration). If Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the Commons, a secondary extension to 12 April comes into play by whicch date the UK must make its proposals for a way forwards to be considered by European Council. If the UK cannot offer acceptable proposals to the European Council by then it will be No Deal.
Donald Tusk was clear tonight. There is to be no reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement – the backstop stays – and preparations and contingency planning is now going full steam ahead throughout the EU27 for all possible outcomes, including No Deal. For Tusk, the UK has four options: a deal (ie Theresa May’s deal), No deal, a long extension (which would involve participating in EU elections), or Revoke Article 50.
It is hard to see how this won’t involve civil war next week in either Tory or Labour Party, or Parliament, or all three. Juncker said tonight that this was it, the EU could do no more.
Updated 21 March: With both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in Brussels today, the former blaming everyone apart from herself for the current situation and the latter blaming himself for “confusion” after refusing to stay at a meeting last night because breakaway MP Chuka Umunna was present, the UK is in limbo with a petition to Revoke Article 50 started last night currently at nearly a million signatures. This is an official Parliamentary petition rather than a Change.org type, and Parliament is required to consider debating any that get over 100,000 signatures; the Revoke Article 50 Parliamentary petition is nearly ten times that within less than 12 hours. Its creator, Margaret Anne Georgiadou, says that “The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people’. We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU.”
A proposal for a second referendum, however, even if debated in Parliament, is unlikely to garner sufficient enthusiasm among MPs however many sign the petition: a clear majority of MPs oppose a “People’s Vote”, with one saying the other day that remaining in the EU now would be like someone demanding a divorce, spending the following two years berating and belittling their former partner, and then announcing “it’s OK dear, I’m not leaving” – hardly a comfortable situation, is the clear point.
It is in fact Theresa May who has mostly used the “will of the people” argument to try to get her deal through Parliament, and indeed on arrival in Brussels she was still saying that the “UK must deliver Brexit for the people”. Many of “the people”, those who comment on social media at least, are furious with her today for trying, as they see it, to pass the buck by refusing to accept any blame at all for what the Solicitor General has called “constitutional chaos”, and for being too rigid and refusing to contemplate any alternatives to her deal. MPs are spitting fire at what they consider to be her accusations of treachery on their part, and Commons Speaker John Bercow has himself defended MPs this lunchtime saying that in fact what they were doing was their job! “None of them is a traitor, all of you are doing your best. I believe passionately in the institution of parliament, in the rights and passions of the members of this house, and their commitment to their duty”, he said.
Jeremy Corbyn himself is coming in for some flak because of his behaviour last night at the Prime Minister’s meeting. His walking out because Umunna was present has been widely condemned as “immature”, and his attempt this morning at alleging it was merely “confusion” will hardly reassure voters who in the near future may be required to choose a new Government with him at the head of the main alternative to the present one.
Meanwhile, France is leading the support for Juncker’s tough line with the UK required to get MV3 through Parliament before any extension will be agreed. What was already looking like an uphill battle has today become nearer to an impossible dream with many of those May needs to support her deal alienated by her comments last night, and even the DUP, whose support appeared to have been secured again (allegedly after a further million Pound bung from the Chancellor), distancing themselves from the deal today.
If MV3 does get voted on, and then fails, it will be for the EU to offer a long extension to see what might be achieved, or for Parliament to decide what it can agree to perhaps by means of indicative votes. If both of these avenues fail, as France’s Macron has said only this lunchtime, it will be No Deal on Friday next week, eight days time.
Updated 20 March: Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed this morning that she has written to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council (heads of EU27), to request a short extension to 30 June: her letter is HERE. She told the House of Commons that as PM, she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June”. She indicated that she was determined to hold another Meaningful Vote, and indeed EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker this morning said that MV3 would have to be passed before any extension could be agreed; May’s letter, however, requested the delay to be approved before putting MV3 to Parliament. If the delay is refused, or defeated again, or doesn’t actually take place with the Speaker maintaining his stance that it is unconstitutional without substantial change, or if the EU and UK can’t agree the order of delay approval and MV3, the UK is still looking at Brexit in nine days time.
Updated 19 March: After a fraught Cabinet meeting this morning, it seems that Theresa May is planning to write to the EU requesting a Brexit delay (as she was in any case instructed to do by her own amendment when it passed last Thursday). On the day that it is confirmed that Brexit has already caused 24 banks and €1.2 trillion in assets to move from the UK to the eurozone (link), the EU has met and concluded that it will need some sort of clear plan for it to grant an extension, and for a lengthy one the clear implication is that such a plan would have to include a second referendum or General Election. Barnier in press conference also made it clear that a request should either be for a long extension or a short one, not both: he said he was a simple soul and a thing could not be short and long at the same time. Unfortunately, there is little coming from London at present to suggest they know how long they need, nor in fact that there is any sort of plan at all; all sides, indeed, now seem agreed that the UK is fully in what the Solicitor General yesterday called “constitutional crisis”. What happens now is anyone’s guess, but Barnier’s press conference ended with him urging all sides to make final preparations for No Deal with the UK still set for departure, deal or not, in ten days.
Updated 18 March: The PM’s contemplation of whether she would have the votes to get her deal through the House of Commons on the third attempt or whether to pull it a second time has met the immovable object of Erskine May, the Parliamentary rulebook. This has been interpreted by the Speaker, John Bercow, as clearly ruling out an attempt to force a vote through more than once when the substance of the matter has not changed, or not changed substantially.
The Government is furious but is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the British Parliament, which now will not allow the Conservative Government to hold it in contempt (it has been found to have done so once only recently, and still over Brexit). The hard place is the EU, co-signatory to May’s Withdrawal Agreement. They are due to hold an EU summit on Thursday to discuss the “current situation”, arrangements which were made before the Speaker’s latest ruling which will no doubt be seen to complicate things even further.
May has been instructed by the success of her Government’s own motion last week to request a delay from the EU. Whether Bercow will see such a delay “substantially changes” the deal is another matter, and that anyway begs the question of whether the EU will grant one of more than a couple of months with European elections looming, and a grant of one less than a couple of months allows very little time for the UK to get anything sorted out.
And so, at this moment, the possible scenarios are that May will request a delay and present a renewed deal to the Commons with the Speaker agreeing to or rejecting the changes as “substantial”; if she does and he agrees, this will result in the deal being put to Parliament again. Otherwise not. The Government could also prorrogue Parliament: this would almost certainly require the Queen to agree to a Government request to terminate this current session of Parliament and start another. This would allow Meaningful Vote 3 to take place because the rule is just that a defeated vote cannot be put back to Parliament unchanged within the same session.
Alternatively, the EU could grant an extension purely for an election, or a second referendum … or MV3 could be brought back with an approval referendum as an adjunct so that even if Parliament were to approve the Withdrawal Agreement, it would still have to be put to the country to approve. Whether that would be considered “substantial change” would also need to be determined. And of course, this all assumes EU agreement to a request for delay.
The speaker clearly chooses his moments for maximum impact. And the impact is, currently, maximum, at least in terms of confusion. And as things stand right now, the UK is set to leave the EU at 11pm in 11 days time.
Updated 14 March: After a series of votes this evening the House of Commons has rejected its chance to take control of the process and has instead approved a Government motion to request an extension from the EU until 30 June. Assuming they agree – and they may not but probably will – Brexit will not now happen on 29 March.
Updated 13 March: Continuing the series of events for UK nationals on Living in Spain and Brexit, British Consul Charmaine Arbouin, Vice-Consul Helen Keating and the consular team will be updating residents with the latest information on Brexit and what this means for UK nationals living in Spain on Friday 22 March in Golf del Sur. The event is taking place at the Rendezvous Restaurant in the Winter Gardens complex at 11:30am. There is no need to register beforehand.
The team will be covering a range of issues, including residency, registration, healthcare and pensions – so whether you have a specific question about living in Spain or simply want to know more about how Brexit might affect you, please come along and talk to them. Consul Charmaine Arbouin said: “As we move closer to 29 March, we will continue to do all we can to update citizens as and when we have more information. In the meantime, I continue to urge all UK nationals living in the Canaries to ensure you are correctly registered and to stay up to date with the latest news, by signing up for email alerts and visiting the Living in Spain guide on gov.uk and following our Brits in Spain social media channels, including on Facebook.”
These events are part of an ongoing programme of outreach and events being held across the country, details of which will be available on Brits in Spain social media channels and in English language media. Advice for UK citizens living in Spain can be found on gov.uk/living-in-spain. The Foreign Office also recommends following their Brits in Spain Facebook page, and to sign up for alerts from the gov.uk page to ensure you are getting accurate information.
Updated 13 March: Theresa May lost her second “meaningful vote” last night by a margin double that which the EU said would effectively close the door on the Withdrawal Agreement. Tonight there will be a Parliamentary vote on No Deal, and tomorrow there should be a vote on extending Article 50 … or more accurately, a vote on whether the UK should request the EU to grant an extension, something they have said they will only do if there are concrete reasons for such an extension, in other words not just for more of the same shilly-shallying that has been going on for the past three years.
Whatever happens now, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said tonight:
The British Parliament has decided not to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement reached between the Heads of State and Governments of the European Union and the United Kingdom. It has done despite additional guarantees that, with great effort, had been offered by the Union. This decision, which I regret deeply, means prlonged uncertainty just a couple of weeks before the point when Brexit should, in theory, take place. We can learn a lot from a process that keeps the British people in a real dead end.
Without taking three factors into account it is impossible to understand Brexit: nationalism that advocates withdrawal from a perspective of exalted myths and false nostalgia; the advance of the extreme right; and the simplification of democracy around the figure of the referendum as a tool from which to offer easy answers to complex problems.
The years prior to the referendum in June 2016 were marked by the rise of UKIP, a political force that made the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU its raison d’etre. In order for the party’s narrative to gain traction in British society it resorted to constant demonization of the EU and consciously ignoring the real needs of British nationals. All with a single aim: that leaving the EU should monopolize the UK’s political agenda.
We saw a phenomenon repeated that has been seen historically in Europe: a minority and extremist faction imposing its ideas by means of conditioning other political actors – actors who sacrifice pragmatism with devastating consequences.
The referendum took place, with the result that we all know.
This decision method is similar to circumstances we find ourselves in today: a simple yes or no answer to complex questions with far-reaching consequences. A binary decision mechanism with mutually exclusive alternatives that obliterated the wealth of nuances that are natural to democracy. That is the vision of democracy that deserves to be preserved in Europe.
All kinds of exaggerations and lies were served in the campaign. It was said that there would be extra money for the NHS; that there would be access to the single market, or that trade agreements were the easiest thing in history to achieve.
The top priority of the Government of Spain has always been the same: to offer rigour, certainty and security in this process – especially to residents and those involved in the economy – and to strengthen the bonds of the future relationship with a country with which we are linked by deep ties of all kinds.
On a day like today, the important thing is that Spain has done its work. We Spaniards are prepared for any scenario, Deal or No Deal.
To manage the UK’s departure with confidence, last November, once I verified the guarantees on Gibraltar that Spain needed, the Heads of State and Government endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration on the future relationship.
This Agreement offers peace of mind and security to those who have made vital decisions based on the UK’s decades-long membership of the EU, to preserve their rights and ensure that the UK would honour the financial commitments made in that time.
It also foresees a transition period to allow progressive adaptation to the new circumstances, as well as advance in the negotiation on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
The Agreement also guarantees that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will remain invisible, preserving peace and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. Incidentally, few examples demonstrate more clearly the key role played by Europe in healing wounds that have festered for generations. Open wounds about forgotten borders that some are eager to replace.
The Withdrawal Agreement offers all the guarantees, certainty and security possible for an orderly exit. And it is complemented by a Political Declaration that marks the way to a mutually-beneficial future relationship.
In respect of Gibraltar, the European Council and Commission adopted a joint declaration in which, for the first time in history, a determining role for Spain has been recognized including a veto over future relations between the colony and the EU. The guarantees obtained have been strengthened by including the clarification on the territorial scope of Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement in the new joint instrument. Thanks to this, we are in a privileged position to build the future of shared prosperity between the country and Gibraltar in coming decades.
To reach this agreement, the 27 Member States made maximum efforts to be flexible. Sadly, when the most intransigent nationalism monopolizes debate, any concession or pact is interpreted as betrayal.
In January, the UK Parliament found itself faced with the dilemmas posed by the destruction of a framework of political, legal and economic relations of more than 45 years. It was the logical culmination of a process contaminated by simplistic rhetoric posed by a divisive mechanism like a referendum.
MPs did not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, nor were they able to reach a minimum consensus on actual existing possibilities – No Deal departure, negotiated agreement, or Remain. The ultimate result of the referendum decision has been total political deadlock.
In any case, faced with a No Deal exit, I would like to send a message of calm. The Government of Spain approved a royal decree on 1 March with contingency measures covering all aspects linked to the withdrawal. The Governent has also set up logistical measures with the approval of an offer of public employment for the most affected sectors like Customs.
The European Commission, for its own part, has adopted the measures necessary in respect of its own areas of competence.
After its withdrawal, the United Kingdom will stop being part of the EU, but not of Europe. It will continue to be a very important partner, especially for Spain, the first country by number of British residents and tourists in the EU.
The measures we have adopted protect the rights of British citizens residing in Spain, and the British Government has announced that it will do the same in respect of Spanish residents in the UK.
Our bilateral relations are excellent and will continue to be so, and the UK will be able to count on Spain as partner and ally. Looking to the future relationship, I want to maintain the greatest mobility for our citizens and connectivity between our two countries, as well as the closest possible cooperation in respect of security, the fight against organized crime and terrorism.
Whatever happens from now on, the EU has to continue the process of integration. The next European elections will be decisive. Two clearly defined options are are set against each other. One looks back to the past, rejecting diversity and afraid of the future. The other is clearly pro-European, committed to reason and common sense, and through treatise and the spirit of agreement. It is time to step forward for that Europe. It is time to protect Europe if we want a Europe that protects us.
Next Thursday at the European Council I will continue working to guarantee the security and certainty of Spaniards and Europeans, and for the validity of a single framework in the world which requires the commitment of European Governments to continue advancing, all in defense of the European model, the only model that has been able to combine economic development and supremacy of rights, freedoms and values for which it is worth continuing to fight.
Updated 7 March: Most British passport holders will not have a problem but some will so it’s worth reminding travellers that Schengen rules require travellers from outside the Schengen area to have at least six months left on their passport. The UK is currently in the EU so there’s no problem even though the country is not a Schengen member, but in a No Deal Brexit, where the UK leaves the EU without a deal, anyone with less than six months left on their passport will not have a valid passport for travel to Spain, which is in both the EU and the Schengen area.
If one of the various possibilities for a deal succeeds in the next three weeks then after 29 March there will probably be no issue for travellers, at least as long as their passport is valid for the expected duration of their trip, but anyone planning now to travel after that date can’t wait to hope for a last minute deal to save them renewing their passport if it’s coming up to its expiry date. The UK’s Home Office has provided THIS website for British nationals holders to check if their passport will be valid for their intended visit, and if it needs to be renewed then it really needs to be done immediately because it can take three weeks to get a new one issued.
Updated 2 March: At the end of January, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that Spain would be introducing a law for Spain’s Brexit contingency measures which included important provisions in regards to citizens’ rights and business (see updates on 14 and 30 January below). This has now been approved by the Consejo de Ministros (the Spanish Cabinet), and its details are HERE. In response, British Ambassador to Spain Simon Manley said:
The UK Government’s top priority remains securing a deal with the EU that wins the support of the UK parliament. However, like any responsible government, the UK Government is planning for every eventuality. It has already announced a series of no deal contingency measures, published extensive advice to business and citizens, and has guaranteed the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. I am pleased to see that the Spanish Government has today announced a series of detailed Brexit contingency measures, should the UK leave without a deal. The Royal Decree offers important assurances on issues like residency and access to healthcare for the more than 300,000 British nationals who have chosen to make Spain their home, and for the many millions more British tourists who visit Spain each year. I welcome too the announcement on customs procedures to avoid potential obstacles to the free movement of goods, which will be important to both British and Spanish businesses who trade in or between our two countries. It is also welcome that the Spanish government has made clear that the measures will apply to Gibraltar, with special consideration for maintaining flows across the border. This will provide some certainty to citizens and businesses in Gibraltar and Spain, and helps to protect the close economic and social relationship between the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar.
Health Minister Stephen Hammond said:
This is a positive step forward in securing an agreement which will enable British expats to access Spanish healthcare in the same way they do now. This should also give reassurance to the millions of British tourists who travel to Spain every year using the EHIC scheme for free or reduced medical costs if they need to see a doctor or nurse. Our next priority will be to continue our work with other EU member states, so that healthcare access for all UK and EU nationals are protected in a no deal scenario.
The British Embassy in Madrid and its network of consulates have held over 100 outreach events all across Spain in the last two years, explaining the implications of Brexit to resident UK nationals and answering their questions. Through these events and through the Embassy’s digital channels they have underlined the importance of British nationals living in Spain being correctly registered.
Being correctly registered means being registered with the National Police and in receipt of a green document, the Certificado de Registro. Its age and size – whether A4 or credit-card size – are irrelevant, and it does not need to bear the word “permanente”. Permanencia is something that happens automatically after five years legal residence, and those who like to see the word on their document can change it for one that says permanente but this it is not a requirement.
It has long been the case that that British nationals who live in Spain for more than 3 months of the year, should hold a certificate of registration from Extranjeria. Spain has announced today that, through the Royal Decree, UK nationals living in Spain will maintain their legal residence status after 29 March and that they, and their family members, will have until 31 December 2020 to get a Foreigner’s Identity Card. Further information on the process for obtaining this card will be released in due course. The key message – and NOW – is that it is essential for all British nationals living in Spain to check their residence status and ensure they are correctly registered.
On healthcare, the UK has offered to fund healthcare in Spain for UK nationals who would benefit from the S1 / EHIC schemes until 31 December 2020 on a reciprocal basis. The UK is also protecting healthcare for Spanish nationals in the UK. Through the Royal Decree, the Spanish Government has said that it will introduce measures that will protect healthcare for UK nationals in Spain, whether they be residents or visitors, under existing reimbursement mechanisms which have seen the UK Government providing £250m last year to Spain for the healthcare costs of British nationals in the country, and the Spanish government paid the £4 million for the healthcare costs of Spanish nationals in the UK.
The official Spanish “Brexit” website is part of the Interior Ministry’s site, and it is HERE. Spanish PM Sánchez said that his goal was to preserve the rights of Spanish and British citizens, as well as protecting a normal trade flow and Spanish economic interests in the event of a chaotic Brexit without a deal, and in this respect, Spain was acting unilaterally. In other words, this is Spain’s gift even though the UK has not yet guaranteed reciprocity; it’s almost certain to reciprocate, but it is thanks to Spain alone at present that we have these reassurances and I think it is important to recognize this.
Updated 26 February: When I was a child, a week was a long time in politics. Now, a day is. In fact, an hour is! As of the afternoon of Tuesday 26 February, therefore, this is the latest situation. The Cooper-Letwin amendment to delay Brexit has this afternoon been pulled and will not now be put to the House because Theresa May has made announcements today that many Conservative MPs, crucially including Oliver Letwin himself, think reflect a sufficient move to persuade the Parliamentary party that it still has some say in the process … a move that also pushes the prospect of No Deal further into the rough/into the long grass/in the bin (whatever’s your metaphor of choice).
Labour has said it will back a second referendum, with Emily Thornberry explicit this morning that the referendum would have May’s deal or Remain on it as the only two choices. A second referendum is extremely unlikely, it has to be said, not least because of time limitations but mainly because there is no appetite for it amongst MPs who would have to vote in favour of the Labour amendment. Instead, they will now have three votes, as follows:
- Tuesday 12 March: meaningful vote on TM’s Withdrawal Agreement
- Wednesday 13 March: assuming Tuesday’s vote fails (which is likely) MPs will then have a specific vote on No Deal.
- Thursday 14 March: assuming Wednesday’s vote fails (which is likely) MPs will then have a vote on requesting a delay of Article 50 (which the EU26 are likely to approve).
The delay/extension is mooted as just for a couple of months but given the Government’s recent history of kicking cans down the road, it seems to me that an extension can be replaced by any number of other extensions, or even intrinsically extended itself. As such, it could be an indefinite extension … essentially Remain without actually making the decision to remain.
What might happen if Thursday’s vote also fails is presently unclear but if it were to fail, MPs would have rejected “the” deal, any extension of the deal, and a no-deal Brexit! Perhaps Labour’s amendment of a second referendum will slot into the second of those three days, or even the day after, the 15th March. At that point, should it be reached, the men in white coats will probably have their work cut out for them in the UK and across Europe! What was I saying just two days ago about the Ides of March?!
Updated 24 February: The Prime Minister has said that the vote on her Brexit deal will take place on 12 March, just 17 days before the UK leaves the EU unless Article 50 is revoked (which the UK can do unilaterally) or the UK requests a Brexit delay (which requires the consent of all other EU member states).
The vote will take place a day before the Cooper-Letwin amendment is placed before the House: if Theresa May’s vote succeeds then her deal will be accepted and the Withdrawal Agreement in place; if her vote fails then either the amendment will suceed and she will be required by Parliament to request a delay, or the amendment itself will also fail and nothing will then stand between the UK and a hard Brexit.
This is what the ERG (and DUP) want, of course, and so they have a difficult decision to make. If they vote against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, the Cooper-Letwin amendment could succeed, especially with the new central Independent Group formed by the disaffected from both Labour and the Tories. And if C-L succeeds, Brexit will be delayed, possibly permanently, assuming the EU26 agree. But if the ERG climbs down and votes for the Withdrawal Agreement after all simply to get some form of Brexit, they will be getting a deal that is in their own words the “worst of all worlds”.
Meanwhile, Michel Barnier is voicing a clearly growing concern in EU and Westminster circles that lurking in the chaos of the final weeks, days, and hours, during which the Article 50 clock continues relentlessly ticking away, is a No Deal By Accident Brexit, one in which everything failed except the inexorable countdown to the point at which the UK is no longer a member of the EU regardless of any attempts to stop, delay or alter the process.
The Ides of a month in the Roman calendar were, generally, the central days. They were fatal both for Julius Caesar and for the Roman Republic. We won’t have too long to wait now to find out how they pan out for the United Kingdom.
Updated 10 February: It’s now less than 7 weeks away from the final second of the clock that’s been ticking away for over 2 years, counting down the time remaining for the UK’s membership of the EU … or the time remaining for the UK to win its freedom, depending on your stance.
My mailbag suggests that those who were shocked into sorting out their police registration is tailing off – they have perhaps sorted out their paperwork after all or decided that it is not capable of resolution – and the tone has now switched to those who are perhaps for the first time facing the reality of Brexit and saying they’d like to find out what comes afterwards … in both of the two likeliest scenarios of Deal or No Deal. Apart from replying “wouldn’t we all” (!) we are still (completely unbelievably) in “nothing is confirmed” territory. Spain is making all the right noises but the UK is still stuck in “we are making every effort to coordinate/we hope that we will be able to agree/this SHOULD be fine” …
So, for anyone thinking of emailing or messaging, the current situation is that the Labour party is now in meltdown after deputy leader Tom Watson effectively declared war on the Liverpool Labour Constituency Party over anti-Semiticism. The local party wanted to deselect a moderate Jewish MP it accused of bullying activists and not supporting Corbyn, Watson said the local party was the bully. The MP remains but war has been declared … and when war is declared on Labour in Liverpool, bodies start piling up. Anyone remember Derek Hatton?
Meanwhile, Conservative minister James Brokenshire has said on Marr this morning that TM’s Withdrawal Agreement essentially delivers the benefits of a customs union, without the label. A Customs Union is what Corbyn’s front bench is demanding to get the WA through the Commons without the DUP and ERG.
This makes a mockery of any Parliamentary debate because none is needed if Labour can have what it wants if it will just call it something else. So if they can agree the words, the deal goes through Parliament, and then we have an orderly Brexit with everything to be debated for the next several decades no doubt in the non-binding Political Declaration which determines our future relationship with the EU … and while those decades pass, the status quo applies.
What are the chances that there can be agreement across the House on the new name for the Customs Union that isn’t a Customs Union (I can think of a few handy acronyms!)? I say those chances are small … and both parties are likely to split if any agreement is found in any case.
Meanwhile people are still talking about a delay which the PM won’t request, a second referendum which Parliament won’t approve, and an election that neither side thinks they can win while Nigel Farage has set up a new party that’s been recognized by the Electoral Commission and is indistinguishable (to me) from UKIP …
Updated 2pm: One aspect of the concerns about driving after Brexit relates to those British nationals who are resident in the EU and who have exchanged their UK licences for Spanish ones. I’ve had several enquiries now from people who are worried about their rights to drive in the UK on a Spanish licence after Brexit, especially should there be no deal. There is no need to worry at all, however, because the UK itself has said:
From 29 March 2019, in the event that there is no EU Exit deal, arrangements for EU licence holders who are visiting or living in the UK will not change.
Visitors with EU driving licences will not need an IDP to drive in the UK.
EU and EEA licence holders visiting the UK can continue to drive on valid EU and EEA licences.
EU and EEA car or motorcycle licence holders who are (or become) UK residents can drive in the UK using EU and EEA licences until they are 70 or for up until 3 years after they become resident, whichever date is the later. At this point an application would need to be made for a UK licence.
For EU licence holders who passed their test in the EU or EEA, the UK will continue to exchange their licence.
EU licence holders who passed their test outside the EU or EEA have restrictions on licence exchange. As such, they may need to take a test to obtain a UK licence.
The official information from the British Government on all aspects of driving throughout Europe after Brexit is HERE.
Updated 1 February: The European Council has announced this morning that EU ambassadors have agreed that UK nationals coming to the Schengen area for a short stay, which they classify as 90 days in any 180 days, should be granted visa free travel after Brexit regardless of whether there is a deal or not. The Council Presidency will now send the legislation to the European Parliament to be passed into law. The UK government has welcomed the news.
Updated 31 January: Many are concerned about rights to drive in Spain, and the rest of the EU, after Brexit, so it is worth repeating the British Government’s advice on the subject. This is:
If you are a UK licence holder living in the EU or EEA you should exchange your UK driving licence for a local EU driving licence before 29 March 2019. From that date, in the event that there is no EU Exit deal, you may have to pass a driving test in the EU country you live in to be able to carry on driving there.
You should consider exchanging your UK driving licence for an EU driving licence as soon as possible. Increased demand may lead to longer processing times and delays to exchanging driving licences the closer it is to 29 March 2019.
You can drive on your EU licence when visiting the UK.
If you return to live in the UK, provided you passed your driving test in the UK (or another specified country), you can exchange your EU licence for a UK licence without taking another test.
The British Consul to southern Spain and the Canaries, Charmaine Arbouin, herself said in a public meeting here in Tenerife in November that the best advice right now for anyone who wants to drive here as a visitor is to get an international driving permit, and that anyone living here should really exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one even though this is not a “legal requirement” for those with UK/EU-complaint photocard licences: these legally only have to be renewed in the country of residence at the point of expiry, but the rule applies to EU nationals, which of course British citizens won’t be after Brexit. There is information about the IDP and more from the official British Government website HERE.
Updated 30 January: Yesterday, the Guardian published an article which has sent shockwaves through British resident populations throughout the EU, and Spain was no exception. The article was headlined “UK retirees in EU will lose free healthcare under no-deal Brexit”, and is HERE. Mainly it is talking about changes to the S1 system after Brexit, which are inevitable, and could affect future retirees’ health cover, but it has been widely taken to imply British nationals already legally resident in the EU will lose that health cover which they already have. Today, the Foreign Office has issued the following statement:
You may well have seen the news story. It has triggered some reactions, so we wanted to try and offer some reassurance where we can and to add some Spain-specific information: New advice for travellers visiting the UK, EU or European Economic Area in the event of a no-deal EU Exit
An Embassy spokesperson said: “It is a priority for the UK’s Department of Health, and for the British Embassy in Madrid, to ensure UK nationals living or working in the EU can continue to access the healthcare they need as we exit the EU.
We are working closely with Spain to make sure patients can continue to access healthcare, whatever the outcome. The Spanish government has already announced that it is planning contingency measures to guarantee healthcare provisions to UK nationals living in Spain starting on the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU if there is no agreement, on a reciprocal basis.”
- Spain has already announced legislation which protects the healthcare arrangements of UK nationals subject to a reciprocal agreement.
- Spain is bringing forward a law giving the Spanish President the power to guarantee British nationals access to healthcare under the current system in the event of a no deal – providing there’s a reciprocal agreement based on current access. For more information on Spain’s Brexit contingency measures, including on healthcare, please see HERE.
- For the latest information including on moving to and living in Spain, including EU Exit and healthcare, please do check for any alerts and updates from the official site HERE
Updated 21 January: Thanks in no small part to the work done by Anne Hernández of Brexpats in Spain, the Spanish Government has now approved a bilateral agreement with the UK for anyone on the Padrón and census by 30 January to be able to vote and stand in local elections in May. Please note that the census is a subset of a local authority’s register of residents (Padrón) and not every resident is automatically entered: anyone wishing to vote should not just be on the padrón but should request to be added also to the census, which is the equivalent of the UK’s electoral register.
Updated 15 January: At least we know something tonight. Theresa May’s Brexit deal has suffered the worst defeat in Parliamentary history. She only had to lose by fewer than 166 to avoid that ignominy, but rather she lost by 230. Tonight, President of the EU council Donald Tusk says “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”. A reasonable question.
The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said tonight “the Spanish Government regrets the defeat tonight in the UK Parliament. The Withdrawal Agreement is the best available and a chaotic Brexit will be negative for the EU and catastrophic for the UK. Spain is working on contingency measures and will prioritize the rights of citizens and residents”. Meanwhile there will be a vote of confidence in the Conservative Government tomorrow, a vote that Labour is widely expected to lose, and then what?
Updated 14 January 2019: At least we’ll know something tomorrow! Assuming Theresa May does not pull the vote on her Withdrawal Agreement again as she did in December, MPs will have to vote on whether to accept it or not. They are widely expected to reject it, and then we will have to wait to see what Parliament decides it does actually want to accept, whether that’s a “Plan B” (which currently does not seem to exist and which must be produced in three days of tomorrow’s expected defeat), or a second referendum, or a general election, or … who knows?! Meanwhile, however, Spain has produced THIS website confirming the status of British nationals living in Spain in the event the deal is accepted, and in the event that it is not (any problems with the website, just remove the “s” from the https).
Spain says that if the deal is accepted tomorrow in Westminster, the rights of British nationals living in Spain will be maintained not just during the transition period set to end in December 2020 but permanently. We will lose the right to vote and stand in elections to the European Parliament, though our right to vote and stand in municipal elections might be preserved through a bilateral agreement currently being negotiated between Spain and the UK. This applies only to those registered with the police at the official date of departure – i.e. 29 March this year. Our existing Registro certificates, however, are for EU nationals, and so from 30 March, British citizens and family members already legally resident in Spain may request a Foreigner Identity Card (TIE – Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero), a definitive residence document that will prove the holder’s eligibility to the rights included under the Withdrawal Agreement. The TIE will be issued immediately, as the Registro currently is, and it will specify that it has been issued in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement.
If the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected tomorrow Spain says that it will provide a solution that in any event guarantees the legal security of British citizens and their family members legally resident in Spain before the exit date since the UK has already confirmed reciprocity for Spaniards in the UK. Spain is currently establishing the precise terms of this process, which will no doubt depend in no small part on what happens in the UK parliament after May’s deal is rejected. The Spanish Government says, however, that the terms will be governed by the following principles:
- British citizens who are resident in Spain before the UK’s withdrawal date (29 March 2019) will be subject to the general immigration regime. In other words, British citizens who are now residents as EU citizens will be subject to the regime governing citizens of a third country.
- All British residents in Spain will be considered legal residents in Spain. To obtain permanent residence prior periods of residence in Spain will be taken into account in accordance with the regime governing EU citizens.
- To facilitate documentation of all the British citizens in Spain, the registration certificates and cards of family members of EU citizens will continue to be valid until the issue of new documents under the general immigration regime (TIE cards).
Updated 20 December 2018: Given the enquiries I’m getting suggesting people are going to be worrying over Christmas about Brexit because they’ve seen a whole series of “no deal” announcements from the UK Government and EU Commission, I think it’s worth posting my “simple paperwork checklist” again: see HERE.
In a nutshell: Westminster MPs are all going off on their Christmas holidays today, and the debate on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which she postponed recently when it looked like it was going to end in a crippling defeat, has been rescheduled and has now been confirmed (by Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom) to start on 9 January, with the vote some days later – likeliest is 14 or 15 January.
Despite the raft of policy notices about a No Deal situation, both the UK and EU still ultimately see this as unlikely, and so the prospects are either that Theresa May’s deal will be accepted in January by Parliament, in which case the UK’s departure from the EU will be controlled and there will be a transition/implementation period until the end of 2020, OR Parliament will vote for one of a range of options including a second referendum, a general election, revoking Article 50, or, still the unlikeliest scenario, a No Deal cliff-edge crash out of the EU.
We cannot know, so it is pointless worrying, what is going to happen until this debate and vote on the Withdrawal Agreement take place. All we can do is ensure our situation is as legal as possible before the proverbial hits the fan, if that is what it ends up doing. Please do read the paperwork checklist – I’ve called it quick and simple because it is – which could make all the difference given that we are going into Christmas and the New Year without the foggiest idea of what 2019 will bring in terms of the UK’s place in the world, and ours in Spain.
Updated 28 November: The British ambassador and Consulate team have been in Tenerife meeting British nationals and updating them on the latest concerning Brexit. The post about the visit and the public meeting is HERE.
Updated 25 November: The EU27 have this morning endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the UK and EU. Theresa May will now be touring the UK to hold public meetings to sell the deal to the public, with Parliament expected to vote on it next month.
Also next month the UK’s High Court is expected to rule on a fast-tracked hearing to determine whether Brexit itself should be declared void. This is because of what lawyers call the “absolutely extraordinary failure” of the British Government in refusing to act on “the growing evidence of illegality in the 2016 referendum campaign and the National Crime Agency’s probe into suspicions of multiple criminal offences” committed by Aaron Banks and the Leave.EU campaign. The case opens on 7 December and a ruling is expected before Christmas.
If Brexit is derailed either by Parliament’s rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement or a High Court judgment to void the process, the UK will be in completely unchartered territory, and a constitutional crisis will unfold with everything up for grabs across the entire spectrum from a hard Brexit to a Remain After All, perhaps via a unilateral cancellation of Article 50. Whether that would actually be possible is itself being determined by the Courts – but this time by the European Court of Justice since the UK’s Supreme Court rejected on 13 November the Government’s attempt to stop it being decided in Europe. The ECJ will hold its emergency hearing on the matter this coming Tuesday 27 November.
It will soon appear, perhaps, that the EU’s ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, two and a half years in the making, was the easy part of the process.
Updated 22 November: For the sake of completeness, and to give anyone interested a chance to read them in advance of the Ambassador’s meeting in Tenerife on Tuesday, HERE is the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and HERE is the Draft Political Declaration. The first has been agreed between PM Theresa May and the EU, and the second has this morning been agreed at negotiator level and agreed in principle at political level: Donald Tusk has now sent it to the EU27 leaders in advance of a summit to be held on Sunday where both are likely to be approved. Assuming they are, these two documents are what will be presented to Parliament next month.
Updated 20 November: Just a reminder that HMA Simon Manley will be at the Villa Cortés Hotel a week today, Tuesday 27 November from 5.30pm for a public information meeting about Brexit as I posted HERE earlier this month. Downing Street has confirmed today that Theresa May will be in Brussels tomorrow evening to finalise the Brexit deal in a meeting with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and so now is the time when the deal is fully clear. It can of course still be rejected by the British Parliament, but unless it is thrown out by the ERG, the DUP, or Labour, or unconvinced Conservative Remain MPs, or any combination of them in Westminster, or a snap election or second referendum is called, this will be the Withdrawal Agreement by which the UK leaves the EU. This is therefore your chance to get information about it from the best possible informed source, the Foreign Office itself, and the UK’s own ambassador to Spain.
Updated 16 November: As I posted last week, the British Government has introduced legislation so that British nationals living in the EU will continue to have their healthcare protected even in the case of a No Deal Brexit. The new Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill establishes the legal basis for funding and implementing reciprocal healthcare schemes for residents abroad, as well as the new EHIC arrangements. Yesterday, on Radio Sur’s English Time, Clio O’Flynn spoke to British Consul Charmaine Arbouin, and the recording of her explanation of the up-to-date situation is HERE.
Updated 14 November: The UK Cabinet has approved Theresa May’s Brexit “deal” today, and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said in response that EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in EU countries “will be able to live their lives as before in their country of residence”, and that the deal will, to paraphrase, keep the UK in a Customs Union permanently. Such interpretations, however, have infuriated “Brexiteers”, and mean it is unlikely that Theresa May will be able to get the Cabinet approval through Parliament as things stand since the ERG (Jacob Rees-Mogg’s anti-EU “European Research Group”) and the DUP have both said they deplore the approval. The Parliamentary situation, to follow a cabinet clearly divided – with only Michael Gove of the “Leavers” approving the “deal” – is that some incredible bedfellows have been made over the past day or so, including Tony Blair and Boris Johnson: the likelihood of May being able to get this through Parliament in the teeth of opposition from Labour, the DUP and the ERG is slim. But for tonight, there’s a “deal”. Tomorrow? Who knows?!
Updated 13 November: The UK and EU have agreed a “withdrawal deal” at a technical level, it has been announced this afternoon. The cabinet has been summoned to Downing Street tomorrow afternoon at 2pm to agree it. If they do, it will then go to a European Council summit likely later this month, and then the UK Parliament in December, the last possible moment to get a deal through to ensure preparations are made in time to avoid a No Deal scenario.
This afternoon’s announcements, however, have been followed hot on the heels by a few others. Boris Johnson has said the deal won’t work; Jacob Rees Mogg has said his ERG’s members in Parliament will vote it down, as have the DUP. Moreover, the PM has called “key cabinet ministers” into Downing Street tonight for one-on-one meetings – it seems they will have a copy of the 400 or so page “deal document” to read through before tomorrow’s meeting but will not be allowed to take it out of Downing Street: the likeliest interpretation is that Theresa May is trying to avoid grandstanding shows tomorrow and to force any possible resignations tonight rather than during cabinet.
So, if this gets through cabinet tomorrow, it is likely to be approved by the EU council since it is Barnier’s work as much as the UK’s. It is then quite possible that it will be stymied in the British Parliament, however, because Theresa May does not seem to have the numbers to get the deal through in the face of opposition from the ERG, DUP and Labour. The options still seem incapable of being called, between deal, no deal, “people’s vote” (aka 2nd referendum), and general election. But for the moment, there’s a “deal” of sorts even if it doesn’t survive the next 24 hours, let alone next 24 days!
Updated 8 November: The Government has always insisted that it has every intention of protecting existing healthcare rights of pensioners in the EU, and this was always intended to be included in the withdrawal agreement and future relationship protocols. With talk and pressure increasing daily now, however, over the possibility of a no-deal Brexit if the withdrawal agreement is not signed off by the UK and the EU very soon, the UK Government has today confirmed that British nationals living in the EU will continue to have their healthcare protected even in the event that the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.
The Government says that the new Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill seeks to safeguard healthcare for expats and the 50 million people who travel abroad every year. It will establish the legal basis to fund and implement reciprocal healthcare schemes and share necessary data after the UK leaves the EU, with continued benefits including reducing the cost of insurance and making travel more viable for older people and high-risk groups, as well as providing a boost to the travel economy. The Government says that the Bill will also establish the basis for a new arrangement allowing the EHIC scheme to continue after 2020, though this is subject to agreement with the EU.
The people perhaps most concerned about these arrangements over the past two years will be the 190,000 or so British pensioners who have retired abroad, and they can now be reassured that they will continue to receive healthcare provided by the Spanish state system and covered by the UK even in the event of a no deal Brexit. Obviously this is a proposed law, and like all Bills has to go through Parliament, but it is pretty inconceivable that it won’t be passed.
Updated 19 September: We are now getting to the sharp end of being Brits abroad with Brexit looming just as it appears the various and opposing entrenched positions are about to clash head-on, as I posted a few days ago. And in the increasingly pressing situation it does appear that the message is getting through to those who have, putting it politely, been assuming they could get by without doing any of the “official bureacratic nonsense” – which is how one person has described it to me.
Incredible as it might seem to some (many?), there are British nationals living in Tenerife who are not registered with the police as legally required for foreigners living here, who are also not registered with a doctor, who don’t pay taxes here because they consider themselves “non-resident” even though living here permanently, and who don’t even have bank accounts. And now, it’s panic stations for some of them … while others remain blissfully ignorant of the danger they’re running.
So, given the situation let’s be clear. If you live in Spain, which includes Tenerife, you have to register with the police. To register they will require certain proofs of your residence, specifically your identity (so passport) plus proof that you are able to support yourself and won’t be a burden on Spain’s social or healthcare systems (so contributions as worker or self-employed or certificates stamped by a Spanish bank showing regular income or a deposit of €5,000 or so, plus full (no excess) private health insurance or, for pensioners, an S1). I’ve detailed the requirements on THIS page but THIS page also has much more information in a FAQ form about the basics of living here: there is also a “simple guide” HERE.
Registration is a legal requirement, but it’s not an automatic “right”. Spain is entitled to say that you haven’t proven you can support yourself or have sufficient healthcare cover to be allowed to live in the country. And so in the rush to register because Brexit is looming, some people are beginning to find that their years of floating above the “official bureacratic nonsense” are starting to catch up with them because they have a non-res bank account and no proof of income, use their EHICs incorrectly for healthcare, and in many instances pay untraceable rent to a British owner in cash or by transfer within the UK. The police are understandably completely unimpressed by such people’s insistence that their bald statement of self-supporting residence without a shred of proof should be enough to allow them to register.
Bear in mind, too, that this is the situation now, pre-Brexit, and for your own assurance, please pay no attention to anyone who tells you not to worry, that after Brexit things will just go on as before. They might, if there is a deal, but that can look very unlikely sometimes presently, and even if there is a deal, we cannot know right now what its conditions will be. Everyone who is anyone here is now singing from the same hymnsheet: register, and get things sorted out while you still have the chance, and if you are having problems in doing so now, it is worth resolving the issues because they could be nothing compared to what you might have to deal with after Brexit.
It’s time for anyone who hasn’t yet stuck their head up above the parapet to do so.
Updated 14 September: Following on from the EU’s guidelines on a no-deal Brexit issued in July, the UK Government has now issued its own advice. All sides are saying they want a deal, and are confident of avoiding a no-deal Brexit, but equally acknowledge that it is reasonable to prepare for the eventuality. Over the next month negotiations have to deal with some of the hardest issues which have become sticking points, like the Irish border, and even if these negotiations can be extended by a few weeks, they cannot go beyond mid-November or so without running out of time for the EU27 to get agreements through their own national and the European Parliaments.
So there is a couple of months at most from now in which we will no doubt find out if Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group will challenge Theresa May before the negotiations end, or whether Boris Johnson will challenge Theresa May on his return from Washington where he has just collected the Irving Kristol American Enterprise Institute award 2018 for exceptional intellectual and practical contributions to improve government policy, social welfare, or political understanding. And Labour shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry has today gone on record as saying that Labour will not back any Chequers-based Brexit deal in Parliament regardless of what might come back from Brussels, which has said for its own part that Chequers is not a plan that can be accepted in any case. Analysts are seeing Thornberry’s intervention less as an attempt to force a no-deal Brexit and more as firing the starting pistol to trigger a general election by defeating May at a critical juncture.
Meanwhile, Gina Miller has launched an “unspun facts” campaign to “End the Chaos”, while other groups attempt to overturn the referendum result in the British and European Courts, and the High Court in London has today ruled that the Electoral Commission broke its own rules in allowing the official Leave Campaign to overspend and ensured unfairness when its job was to guarantee the opposite. If the UK’s present situation is not “a bit of a mess” it is certainly rather fluid, and it is hard to see where it is all going to go, so at least for the time being we have the no-deal advice from the British Government to be going on with. The EU’s own advice from July is in the last update immediately below, and the UK’s “Technical Notices” for a post-crash-out-Brexit are HERE.
Updated 19 July: With Westminster in utter chaos over Brexit for the last week, and with David Davis’ replacement, new Brexit minister Dominic Raab, holding his first meeting today with Michel Barnier in Brussels, the British political media is already bracing for the potential devastation of a no deal “cliff-edge” Brexit. And so too is the EU, with the Commission this morning releasing a “communication on preparedness” … for all outcomes in the Brexit negotiations. It is very clear from reading it that a no deal scenario is now up there as of virtually equal likelihood to an agreed settlement signed off in October leading to a two-year transition period from March next year.
Although the communication is a call to the EU27 national authorities and economic institutions and operators to step up preparations for any scenario, what might be of more concern to plain British citizens like ourselves is what might happen to us if the no deal “cliff-edge” scenario actually comes to pass. In this respect the communication explains that there would be no specific arrangement in place at all, either for EU citizens in the UK or for British nationals living and working in the EU. We would be in complete limbo and at the mercy of whatever bilateral agreements could be reached between the British and Spanish Governments in what would inevitably be the unchartered waters of a chaotic political and constitutional environment.
The full document is HERE, and it is self-evident that for us to have the best chance – indeed perhaps the only chance – of being able to remain living and working in Spain whatever agreements might be reached by the two Governments under those conditions, we will have to be here completely legally at that point. In fact, given that an agreement is still due to be signed off in October, if all fails and a no deal Brexit is to take place, it could be October this year that becomes the crucial date rather than March 2019.
As I explained in the last update on the 6th, the last but one update below, the only way of being legally resident in Spain is by being registered with the police and to be in possession of a Certificado de Registro. It doesn’t matter whether this says permanente or not on it because it entitles the holder to the right to permanent residence after five years anyway. What matters is that it’s the real Certificado de Registro – it will be green, and either A4 or credit-card sized, and it will have been issued by the National Police. And if the advice of the British Consul for southern Spain and the Canaries, Charmaine Arbouin, to “Register, Register, Register” was imperative when facing an orderly negotiated Brexit, it will be even more essential should a no-deal Brexit come to pass.
If you are not already registered with the police – and with a green Certificado de Registro not just a NIE – the strongest possible advice is to register now. For ease of reference, HERE is a simple paperwork checklist, and HERE is the page on documentation generally, including how to register with the police.
Updated 9 July: David Davis has resigned as Brexit secretary, and now, this afternoon, Boris Johnson has resigned as Foreign Secretary. Davis said that the Chequers cabinet approval of a soft Brexit was not something he could support as Brexit Secretary but that he did not see why Johnson should resign because it was not central to his job as Foreign Secretary. Nonetheless, Johnson has gone, and many will see it as political manoeuvering prior to a leadership challenge. Make of it whatever we will, here is Johnson’s resignation letter, effectively saying that without a hard- or no-deal-Brexit, the UK will be no better than an EU colony. Watch this space, as they say. Click the images (left) to see full size. The EU has said “nothing has changed”, but negotiators must be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of the UK in chaos thanks to these resignations and the Conservative Party’s internal warfare, and Donald Tusk has said that “it’s a shame Brexit didn’t go with these two, but maybe it still will”.
Updated 6 July: In a meeting coordinated with the Adeje FOCUS group, the Consul for southern Spain and the Canaries Charmaine Arbouin met local community and media representatives yesterday to explain the latest developments in the Brexit negotiations. The Consul, accompanied by Vice Consul Helen Keating and Consular Officer Penelope Gomez, explained that the current state of negotiations was now entering a new phase, with the UK and EU preparing to sign off an agreement in October this year prior to the UK’s official departure from the EU in March next year.
Although “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, the stance consistently expressed by Theresa May, the UK and EU have already finalised details of citizens’ rights, and as of December last, have moved on to other issues like the Irish border and various recriprocal agreements covering a range of issues like security and nuclear accords. From residents’ perspectives, however, it will be reassuring to hear it repeated that the agreement for our continued status is all but agreed and signed off: in the Consul’s own words, very little indeed will change from our point of view in terms of recripocal rights, continued pension increases, healthcare cover, and right to remain and reside in Spain.
Other issues like the Erasmus programme for students, for example, or photocard driving licence regulations, are still to be negotiated and determined but if nothing changes, all will be well for those who live here to continue to do so with the same rights that they currently enjoy, even if there might be one or two additional administrative hoops through which we will have to jump after the transition period, which finishes at the end of 2020.
The foregoing, however, is all dependent upon one thing, namely that the residents concerned are legally registered, and that is a message that is clearly not getting through sufficiently well or widely. It is frightening to learn that in one area of southern Spain with nearly 2,000 on a local padrón, only 300 or so were actually registered by the police as foreign residents in the country, and without being registered, their situation is at best alegal, and at worst illegal.
It is difficult to see what makes people resistant to registering, but whatever the problem is, the solution is very easy to put into simple language. The only way of being legally resident in Spain is by being registered with the police. The only way. A registration on a local council’s padrón is important to prove continued residence, and obviously provides significant local benefits, but does not of itself convey legality of residence. Equally, a NIE is essential – a sine qua non – for anyone wishing to do anything official in the country, whether sign at notary, buy a car, whatever, but again, of itself, does not convey legality of residence. To repeat, the only way of being legally resident in Spain is by being registered with the police.
Registration is legally required, but apart from making us “legal”, and providing “resident discount” type benefits, it will be the only certain proof of legal residence status at the point the UK leaves the EU. Without it, it is technically possible that British residents, who by that stage will be ex-EU nationals in the country illegally, could even be at risk of deportation. It is far less a case of nothing to lose by registering and much more one of everything to lose by not registering. In Charmaine Arbouin’s own words, if she has any message to convey at all at this stage, it is “Register, Register, Register”.
Assuming the agreements are signed off by the UK and EU in October this year, the next phase of the withdrawal will see much more in the way of bilateral talks between the UK and Spain, and accompanying the Consul yesterday was Lorna Geddie, one of four new policy advisers brought in throughout Europe to help liaise between the UK and the EU countries with which individual systems will have to be developed. The aim, Lorna said, was to streamline bureaucracy as much as possible, and develop programmes that will allow people to complete the necessary procedures as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Obviously, we will have to wait to see what Spain’s registration or residence requirements will be, but again it was reassuring to hear that Theresa May has already spoken to new Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez and the message is clear: both countries are committed to citizen rights for Spaniards in the UK and British nationals in Spain.
In all, the official Foreign Office line was clear. Residents are encouraged to speak to their regional authorities, local Ayuntamientos or community liaison groups like Adeje’s FOCUS: tell them what is needed, we were advised, because they need to make arrangements for their own local groups of foreign residents and, really, everything is up for grabs at present. Make your voices heard, tell local authorities what you want. And of course stay tuned to official channels or trusted media to be sure of knowing what is going on, and what actions might be required of us. But above all this, before everything, and more important than anything else at the moment, for our own sakes and that of our futures in Spain, Arbouin’s words are all we need to remember right now: REGISTER, REGISTER, REGISTER.
Updated 20 April: Apart from any problems the Government has with the House of Lords and the DUP, let alone the EU negotiators, another problem is pending with what can now be known as the Shindler Case. This involves a 96-year-old British man who lives in Italy, Harry Shindler, and who has just had his case accepted by the European Court of Justice. The case seeks to overturn the referendum result on the grounds that the result was invalid since he and a dozen or so other long-term expats were refused the right to vote despite a UK Government promise in 2015 to overturn that ruling on voting eligibility.
Sue Wilson, chair of BremainInSpain, said that the EU’s general court will hear the case which argues that the EU was wrong to initiate a withdrawal procedure, and that the negotiations are therefore illegal. Mr Shindler himself, in an interview with The Times, said that “the court can’t tell us to have another referendum but can say it doesn’t recognise the result. If we win, then the referendum is overturned. That would put the cat amongst the pigeons!”. Certainly it could force another referendum with long-term expats automatically having a vote.
Updated 19 March 2018: The UK Government and the EU have agreed the terms for a 21-month transitional deal as part of Brexit to enable the UK to make an “orderly withdrawal” from the European Union. The agreement was announced today by David Davis and the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, and clearly the UK has made a whole series of concessions to Brussels, including accepting the plan of keeping Northern Ireland under EU law to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. Also EU nationals arriving in the UK during the transition will get the same rights as those already in the country, even though Theresa May has previously said this could not happen.
Many commentators see the deal for a transition process as a complete cave in by the UK Government not least because it will keep the UK in the same position within the EU until 31 December 2020, rather than the original leave date of March next year, though without any rights throughout that period as a participating member. Business leaders, however, welcomed the news as providing the reassurance needed, and indeed Sterling immediately reached a five-month high in reaction to the announcement.
Speaking of the deal on the transition, David Davis said:
Make no mistake, both the United Kingdom and the European Union are committed to the joint report in its entirety and in keeping with that commitment we agree on the need to include legal text detailing the back stop solution for the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland in the withdrawal agreement that is acceptable to both sides. But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland and therefore we will engaged in detail on all the scenarios set out in the joint report.
How this will all go down with the DUP, currently essential to Theresa May’s minority Government staying in power, is anyone’s guess, and it’s a fair while to the end of 2020, and there are still many more things to be clarified and agreed in that period. Let’s hope that we soon start to see things more clearly … 20-20 vision would be a good thing if it arrives before the end of 2020 itself!
Updated 14 December 2017: A rebellion against party whips by a dozen Conservative MPs who joined a cross-party alliance saw Theresa May lose a Brexit vote in the House of Commons last night. The vote was a key one on an amendment by former attorney general Dominic Grieve to ensure Parliament’s right to a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal. The same cross-party alliance is likely also to inflict another defeat on the Government next week if Theresa May continues with her plan to try to set the end of the UK’s EU membership at 11pm GMT (midnight in Brussels) on 29 March 2019.
In an irony which will no doubt infuriate “Brexiters” who demanded “sovereignty” for Britain’s Parliament, it is that very sovereignty which will now be exercised by all MPs to determine whether the final deal is acceptable, not the Conservative Government. What effect this will actually have, however, is debatable, with Polish MEP Danuta Hübner, who chairs the European parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, arguing this morning that the vote will be largely meaningless because it will be a take it or leave it deal that has come out of completed negotiations by the time it gets to the MPs to vote on.
According to this view, if the deal were to be rejected by the House of Commons it should push the country into a hard Brexit, but the cross-party alliance is determined that democratic sovereignty should be the preserve of Parliament and all MPs, rather than any given Government of the day, and it will certainly strengthen the hand of anti-Brexit or anti-hard Brexit MPs through the remainder of the negotiations since David Davis and his team, and Theresa May herself, will know that they cannot simply plough ahead and agree the deal with the EU without full Parliamentary approval.
A further factor, of course, is that the British Parliament is not the only one which will have a vote on the final deal. The European parliament will also have a vote on it, and be asked to approve the deal some time before March 2019 and the end of the two-year period which started when Article 50 was triggered by the UK. The MEPs won’t be able to make any changes to the deal, but they too will have the power to reject it, though they are considered likely to rubber stamp a deal signed off by each of their national Parliaments and the European Commission.
Updated 23 October: In an interview on BBC1’s Andrew Marr show, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said that British residents in Spain would be allowed to continue living in the country even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Dastis said that “If there is no deal we will make sure that the lives of ordinary people who are in Spain, the UK people, are not disrupted. … the relationship between the UK and Spain is a very close one in terms of economic relations and also social exchanges. Over 17 million Brits come to Spain every year and many of them live here or retire here and we want to keep it that way as much as possible.”
Now many will understandably be wary of accepting a verbal (albeit recorded) statement by a Government minister who might not still be in post, or even still be elected, at the time the negotiations conclude. And in any case, a no-deal Brexit is seen as virtually inconceivable by negotiators, as the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Madrid, Tim Hemmings, said in the Brexit meeting the other day. Nonetheless, it will be reassuring to many to hear such positive words from the Spanish authorities direct, and to hear how they view us, and our contributions to the country, a view inevitably formed against the background of all the Spanish nationals living in the UK, and whom Spain wishes to see carrying on with their successful lives without interruption.
Updated 1 September: Following the second round of negotiations, the UK’s Exiting the EU Dept has published a further joint technical note with the European Union setting out their current positions. All indications are that this round of negotiations was tetchy, testy and frustrating, but in some respects, reassuring to those of us living in Tenerife. As before, the joint technical note is in the form of a comparative chart, and it can be viewed HERE. David Davis’ summing up of the current situation is HERE.
Also as mentioned before, it is now increasingly clear that the UK has every intention of protecting existing healthcare rights of pensioners in the EU. It is a firm plank of UK policy that the British Government will “at least protect existing healthcare rights and arrangements for EU27 citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. The EHIC arrangements.” This means, of course, that British pensioners in Spain will continue to have their health care arrangements protected both where they live and – when they travel to another Member State including the UK – to be able to use their EHIC.
The wording, however, could be significant in referring to existing healthcare rights and arrangements: whether new retirees will enjoy the same benefits, or whether there is to be a cut-off date for eligibility, will no doubt become clear in time. It is quite evident, though, that the number one concern of British retirees here is largely dealt with, and any pensioner already legally resident in Tenerife and getting healthcare through the S1 system should continue to be able to do so.
Updated 25 July: The British ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, has written the following open letter to all UK citizens living in Spain.
Given the success of the Spanish State Visit to the UK the week before last, which, among other things, highlighted the importance of people to people links between our two countries, I thought it timely to return to the subject of citizens’ rights in the negotiations on our departure from and future partnership with the EU.
In the year since the EU referendum, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you across the country, from the Balearics to the Canaries, along the Costas and in Madrid, and our consular teams have met many more.
I know from those conversations that there has been uncertainty for many of you. My teams and I have listened to your concerns about the future, including about your residency status in Spain, the level of your UK pensions, and your access to Spanish health and other social services, and have noted the questions you have about tax, inheritance, right to work and the implications of applying for Spanish nationality.
At our meetings, on our social media and in interviews, I have also pledged to keep you up to date as negotiations on our exit from the European Union continue. So, let me update you on where matters stand now, in light of the latest negotiation round in Brussels last week.
The UK Government has been clear that citizens are our top priority in the exit negotiations. We want an agreement that provides citizens with greater certainty about their future.
Last week, we held constructive and substantive discussions with the European Commission on the bulk of the issues underpinning our respective positions on citizens’ rights. Together we have taken a big step forward. There is a much clearer understanding on the detail of the positions on both sides and significant convergence on the key issues that really matter to citizens. You can read this technical note which compares the UK and EU positions on these issues [in the post below]. It is clear both sides want to move towards an agreement.
As you know, on 26 June, the Prime Minister outlined to Parliament an offer to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. We are entering the negotiations with the European Commission and the other 27 EU Member States constructively and we therefore hope that the EU27 will offer reciprocal treatment for British nationals resident in the other Member States.
Many of you will have seen press reports of our 26 June offer, whether in the UK or Spanish media. I hope you will also have read the detailed proposals which are set out in “Safeguarding the position of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU” (//www.gov.uk/government/policies/brexit) and I would encourage you to sign-up for email alerts (you can do so on the Home Office gov.uk page) to receive updates, to ensure that you are receiving information and guidance from official sources.
The first key element of the new proposal is residence status and working rights. Until the UK’s exit, EU citizens in the UK will continue to enjoy all the rights they currently have under EU law; they can continue to live and work in the UK just as they do now.
The same rights also apply to you, British residents in Spain. You can continue to live and work here in Spain as you always have done. After the UK’s exit from the EU, we are proposing a reciprocal deal that would protect the right of UK nationals already in the EU to continue to live and work in the EU. We hope that the European Commission and the 27 other Member States will agree to this.
The second key element is healthcare, pensions, education and access to benefits. It is our intention to treat EU citizens with settled status in the UK in the same way as if they were UK citizens for the purposes of access to education, benefits and pensions.
For you, the Government has announced that the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU, issues which I know from my conversations over the last year were important to many of you.
At the moment, those of you who are UK pensioners and resident in Spain access healthcare through the S1 form. This means the UK reimburses Spain the cost of providing medical treatment. After the UK leaves the EU, we want to continue your healthcare entitlements on the same basis. Healthcare in Spain was indeed one of the case studies cited in the detailed proposals made by the British Government on 26 June (see link).
Subject to negotiations, we want to continue participating in the European Health Insurance Card scheme meaning EHIC holders continue to benefit from free, or reduced-cost, needs-arising healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU — and vice versa for EU EHIC holders visiting the UK. We hope the European Commission will agree to this.
The British Government has repeatedly said that, until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. You can continue travelling throughout the EU on your UK passport, without any visa requirements. You can continue to access Spanish healthcare and draw your UK pension. If you have any difficulties accessing those rights, do please let our Consulates know
I will continue to engage with you and listen to you, as will my consular teams across Spain. In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter (@SimonManleyFCO) and access the Embassy’s social media (@UKinSpain on Twitter; British Embassy Madrid and Brits in Spain on Facebook) to keep up to date with developments.
Updated 21 July: The UK’s Exiting the EU Dept has published a joint technical note with the European Union setting out their positions on citizens’ rights. It is a comparative chart, effectively, and has been published on the EU Commission and gov.uk websites and can be viewed HERE. It maps the alignment between the two parties’ positions, to prioritise future discussions, and summarises and compares them. Green indicates convergence, red indicates divergence, and yellow indicates where further discussion is required to deepen understanding.
Updated 26 June: In a parliamentary statement today in the House of Commons, Theresa May has said:
the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU. We will continue to protect the export of other benefits and associated healthcare cover, where the individual is in receipt of those benefits on the specified cut-off date. And subject to negotiations we want to continue participating in the European Health Insurance Card scheme, so that UK card holders could continue to benefit from free or reduced cost healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU and vice versa for EU card holders visiting the UK.
Whilst this is framed within the UK’s offer on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, an offer which EU negotiators say does not go far enough, it seems pretty inconceivable to me that May or whoever is PM at the time could go back on this position of preserving pensioners’ rights to pension increases and healthcare, and the EHIC system, regardlesss of the form of the final settlement.
Updated 22 June: Brexit negotiations have started and already the UK has had to concede that residents’ rights (along with the divorce settlement and the Irish border) will have to be agreed before any trade agreements can start. With now only 21 months – and counting – remaining of the 24 months within which all agreements need to be finalised, Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans is publishing a new report on the possibilities that exist for British nationals to retain EU citizenship regardless of what might be agreed in the negotiations.
The study was launched on Tuesday in the European Parliament, and the researchers will present their findings to the European Commission and the European Parliament. It is based on the report – ‘The Feasibility of Associate EU Citizenship for UK nationals post-Brexit’ – prepared for Evans by a team of researchers at Swansea University. One possibility explored by the study is a new status of ‘associate citizenship’. Jill Evans said that the “report is an important contribution to the debate around UK citizens retaining their EU citizenship, or having the right to become associate EU citizens”. She continued that many people still strongly considered “European” as part of their self-identity “and are horrified at the thought of losing their EU citizenship, with all the benefits it brings”.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) in the European Parliament said that the proposals were interesting and should be explored. Any British residents of Tenerife who did not want to see the UK leave the EU will certainly agree. Meanwhile, negotiations, such as they are, continue, but it will be a boost to the spirit of those who wanted to remain in the EU to see that someone is considering how they might be able to do so.
11 April: The FCO held a live Q&A session on Facebook today as I posted HERE, and in essence, FCO Consular Director Julia Longbottom reiterated all I’ve said below on this post, namely that everything of concern to British residents or property owners here will be the subject of negotiations which will take place over the next two years. No-one’s situation changes in that period, and there will be no new information until negotiations start, and it will then be a matter of policy as to what details the Government will release about those negotiations. When there is any clear information I will publish it here.
Updated 29 March: And so, today is B-Day, starting the two-year process of negotiation for the UK’s departure from the EU. From what the UK’s Exiting the EU Department says, together with comments from EU diplomats, particularly chief negotiator Michel Barnier from France, there is a clear agenda for discussion. First will be the €60bn “divorce bill”, and providing agreement is reached on that, second on the list is the residence rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and by extension, those of Britons living in the EU. At least this should provide an early clarification of our residence status and rights to remain in Spain. Today, then, is when it actually starts to get real.
Updated 20 March: The British Government has announced that Theresa May will trigger Article 50 to start the Brexit process on Wednesday next week, 29 March.
As I said below last month, the official position is that the residence situation of British nationals currently remains the same as before the referendum, and there is no additional requirement for a work permit or extra documentation, nor anything else to enable British nationals to continue living and working in Spain. The current requirements HERE remain valid until further notice.
Having said that, triggering Article 50 sets a clear start date for the two-year Brexit procedure, and since everything will then be a matter of negotiation, today’s announcement makes the next nine days a very good time for anyone who needs to formalise their legal position in Spain to do so. If you are living here and have not registered with the police, or are not on your local Ayuntamiento’s padrón, I would urge you to do so before Wednesday 29 March in case that date becomes significant in any determination of a right to remain in Spain.
Original post 7 February 2017: The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office has reminded British residents in Spain that their residence situation currently remains the same as before the referendum. The FCO’s page is HERE for general advice on residency requirements.
I myself am frequently asked about the situation of Brits in Tenerife now that the UK “has left the EU”, but the UK has not left the EU yet, just voted to do so. As of this moment, and until two years after article 50 has been triggered, the UK is still in the EU. The decision reached in the referendum is currently being taken through Parliament, and it seems that Theresa May intends to trigger Article 50 (a power that Parliament has now given her) by 9 March, which would then become the starting point of the two year negotiating period.
In the meantime, there is no additional requirement for a work permit or additional documentation, nor anything else to enable British nationals to continue living and working in Spain. The current requirements HERE remain valid until further notice.
Beyond that, absolutely everything else will have to wait for the two-year process of negotiations, and I will post any firm information as and when it becomes available throughout this period. In the meantime, I would urge anyone living here who is not registered with the police (and with a Certificado de Registro), or not on a council padrón, to do so immediately.
In this respect, it is worth clarifying one question I’m repeatedly asked by people who have or had plans to move over in the next few years, namely whether “following Brexit, would it be wise to apply for permanent residency now?” The answer is, of course, that as is clear from the link to the current requirements linked to above, those living here do not have a choice to “apply for residency” but are under a “requirement to register”. Anyone living here should already be registered with the police, and anyone who is planning to move over cannot guarantee anything by pre-emptively getting a Certificado de Registro now, which in any case would mean making a false declaration of residence in Spain.
In any case, everyone should bear in mind that the Certificado de Registro is a certificate for EU nationals, and so might be replaced by some other requirements once the Brexit procedure is complete and the immigration conditions for Brits as non-EU nationals are confirmed.
So to reiterate, the current situation will remain the case while Brexit negotiations continue, and everything will have to be determined by negotiations yet to come. Nothing firm can be said until those negotiations are completed. For my more general thoughts, please see below for the post I originally made before the referendum took place, and for the UK Government’s advice for British nationals travelling and living in Europe in the wake of the Leave vote, please see HERE.
The following is what I originally posted in June 2015:
Maybe because it’s been in the news a lot lately, or because David Cameron is in Brussels right now telling the EU what it must do if the UK is to stay in Europe when the referendum is held at some point over the next two and a half years (link), but I’ve had a few emails lately asking what the implications would be for expats in Tenerife if the UK opted to leave. Obviously, to quite a large extent, this is a matter of opinion, perspective, and judgment, but there are one or two firm facts that we can at least use to help form views. The main questions I’m asked concern medical arrangements, pensions, and residential status, and so to cover these in turn:
First, medical arrangements. Clearly the reciprocal arrangements for EU member states could stop if the UK left the EU. This would leave pensioners without an S1 system whereby their cover in Spain is funded by the UK. There is a safety net in Spain, so it’s not inevitable that pensioners would be without health cover, but there are criteria: anyone who was first registered as a legal resident in Spain (with a Certificado de Registro) before 24 April 2012, and who has remained legally resident throughout, and who has an annual income of under €100,000, and who has no other healthcare cover, can apply to be registered for free healthcare in Spain as a resident. Whether UK nationals would be deemed to have “no right to any other healthcare cover” given that the NHS would cover them if they returned to the UK is another matter. It also seems likely that any rights under the reciprocal European healthcare system which provides British travellers with EHICs for emergency care and cover while out of the UK would be lost. These matters are among many which will form part of the negotiations to be undertaken during the Brexit procedure.
As far as pensions are concerned, the UK will pay these to whichever account an entitled pensioner requests, but David Cameron has said that if the UK leaves the EU, there will be no increases of British pensions for those living in the EU, just as pensioners living in, say, Australia, find their UK pensions frozen at the rate applicable at the point they left the UK. The Government has made noises following Cameron’s statement that suggest this may be negotiable, but the only firm statement made at present is that pensions of British pensioners within the EU will be frozen if the UK leaves the EU. The date at which the pension rate would be frozen is a matter of complete conjecture.
With regard to residence status, Spanish and European law gives residents of an EU nation state the right to reside permanently in another EU nation once they have been legally resident for five years. Once the UK leaves the EU, however, British citizens cease to become “residents of an EU nation” and so their right to remain cannot be taken for granted. That right also extends, though, to member states of the EEA (European Economic Area) and so unless there’s a “hard brexit”, the UK should remain in that group, thus preserving its citizens’ right to remain in Spain if they have been here legally for five years (again, this implies being in possession of a Certificado de Registro and being able to prove essentially continuous residence, presumably by means of an additional Certificate of Empadronamiento from an Ayuntamiento).
Assuming there is some right to remain for those who have been here legally for five years, it is not clear to me what the position would be for those who had not been here for five years, but under EU law I cannot see how Spain could just expel people who had arrived here legally and who had been officially processed. Regardless of length of residence, however, the status of anyone who had not registered with the police and acquired their Certificado de Registro would be “irregular”, rather than “illegal” – just as it is at present.
When it comes to the inheritance and gift tax reductions of 99.9% newly introduced in the Canaries from January 2016, and which apply to tax residents and non-residents alike, one of the few criteria that apply to receiving the reduction is that it applies to non-residents providing they are resident in another EU member state. This is because the non-discrimination requirements are based on EU regulations, and if the UK were to leave the EU, then the discount for inheritance and gift tax would no longer be available, as it is presently not available for those resident outside of the EU.
Incidental questions I’m also asked relate to driving licences – the UK’s involvement in the EU’s photocard licence scheme would be questionable; the effect on the exchange rate – this is a money expert’s question and even if I were one, which I’m not, I doubt I’d be prepared to guess! One thing is clear, howeer, and that is that anyone given the right to remain would retain their right to resident discount on travel within Spain because it is a subsidy given to Canarian residents, regardless of origin.
Obviously the above isn’t “factual” in the normal sense, and some things which are “facts” could change because policy or decisions can be altered, or there might be residual agreements put in place were the UK to leave. But that’s my best attempt given what is known at present to address the concerns I’m increasingly finding people have. I hope it helps, and I’m more than happy for this to be discussed however you like below.