British Ambassador to Spain explains about residence, driving licences, healthcare and more to British residents facing Brexit

Photo: Luz Sosa.

Updated 28 November: Around 150 or so British nationals were at the meeting last night to hear HMA Simon Manley speak about the latest on the Brexit process. Before he met the public, however, he had met mayors from a range of south Tenerife municipalities, and indeed the public meeting itself was hosted and introduced by Arona mayor José Julian Mena.

The ambassador said the timing was serendipitous since the visit came just a few days after the historic agreement reached between the UK and EU, and it provided him with an opportunity to deal with the concerns people had from a much stronger basis in fact. Nonetheless, he said, the work now starts in putting the detailed measures in place, and the only certain way British nationals in Spain could be best placed to ensure their continued rights to reside here was to be registered with the police as required: only legal residents will be considered as legally resident for the purposes of future rights.

Simon Manley’s visit to Tenerife included meetings with police and immigration authorities, and he said that they were fully aware that the official numbers of Britons living in Spain didn’t reflect the reality. Reporting back to the public meeting, he told the audience that if they were registered as residents; “what the withdrawal treaty does, once it is ratified by the British Parliament and the European Parliament, is to put the guarantees set out in that treaty, your current rights as citizens here will then be embodied in international law. There can be no firmer basis for the protection of your rights…enabling you and your families to continue to live here in the manner in which you have lived here hitherto”.

In addition, the ambassador said, residents should register with their local Ayuntamiento on the padrón (the councils’ lists of residents in their boroughs) and also make sure they are on their council’s census in addition in case we are able to vote in the local elections next May, after the official date the UK leaves the EU but still within the “implementation period” which ends at the close of 2020. Manley said he had raised this issue with the mayors, and explained that while it is one of the few rights not currently guaranteed under the withdrawal treaty, talks were ongoing with the Spanish Government and it was hoped that UK citizens in Spain would be able to continue to participate in local politics here both as voters and candidates.

The Ambassador is in the Canaries for four days, visiting five islands, and also meeting Canarian President Fernando Clavijo. He is also meeting representatives of the Embassy’s social partners. Accompanying him were Consul for the South of Spain and the Canaries Charmaine Arbouin, Vice Consul Helen Keating, and the consular staff who deal with British residents here on a daily basis.

After his talk, the ambassador took questions from the floor ranging across the usual spectrum of concerns that all British nationals here have. These included:

  • the position of “swallows” who aren’t resident here but who come for more than the traditional fortnight’s holiday: their position remains to be clarified, but one thing can be said now, namely that the rumour about visas being required at least for longer-term visits was only in the case of a no-deal Brexit if the UK Parliament (or the European Parliament) rejects the deal;
  • driving licences: this issue again depends on whether Parliament accepts the deal or not, but the Consul said that the best advice right now for anyone who wants to drive here as a visitor is to get an international driving licence, 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-compliant 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);
  • the difference between residence and permanent residence, and the right to travel within the EU: the difference is a technicality since “pernanencia” is automatic after five years legal residence. No-one has to re-register, or have a document that says “permanente” on it to be a “permanent resident” if they have been legally here for five years. Once bilateral negotiations start, however, then Spain could and almost certainly will require different documentation which could be a plastic photocard like that which is provided to other “third-country nationals” (which is what we will be). To be explicit: there is a “presumption of continuity” in permanencia, which means that no-one needs to reregister – after five years legally registered, permanencia happens automatically. Indeed it is actually set out in European Law in very clear terms that no EU nation can require foreign residents to register more than once. As to forward movement, that too is still on the table with no confirmation possible at present.
  • healthcare arrangements: clearly this is of major concern to the majority, especially since the average age of British nationals here is higher than that of Spanish nationals in the UK. When it comes to healthcare, however, the ambassador was really quite upbeat. Nothing will change, he said, because one way or another reciprocity will continue even in the case of no deal.
  • tax status: tax residence is automatic after half a year, but apart from that one fact, the advice across the board was “get professional advice”. I’ve said it myself too, many times, anyone needing tax advice should speak to qualified professionals.
  • The final two questions were concerning the right of businesses here to employ specifically British staff where necessary, eg a British school. Employment matters, the ambassador said, were among the many items still to be determined. The final question was whether our rights would remain in place to return to the UK after lengthy residence in Spain, and the answer to that is clear. Unless we revoke British nationality, which would be required if someone applied for Spanish nationality, then the right to return remains in place: we are British, and we never lose our citizenship, nor our right to return to our home country.

Original post 7 November: Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, will be in the Canaries at the end of the month to talk about Brexit. The FCO says it’s an opportunity to join him on Tuesday, 27 November, at 5.30pm in the Villa Cortés Hotel in Playa de las Américas for an update and ask him any questions directly.

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