14 Jun, 2022 @ 19:35
3 mins read

EXPLAINER: What are the rules for expat Brits regarding voting in elections in Spain?


A NEW ruling by the European Court of Justice issued has stirred up emotions among British residents in Europe as it states that an “automatic consequence” of Brexit is a removal of the right to vote or run in municipal elections.

However, Brits living in Spain, may remember a bilateral deal was struck between Spain and the United Kingdom over voting rights back in 2019 and therefore wonder whether this ruling also applies to Brits resident in Spain.

The Olive Press sought clarification on the matter and here’s what we found out:

ECJ ruling

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday June 9 that British citizens living in EU countries have no voting rights in municipal elections.

This came about as the result of a case launched by a British woman who has lived in France for more than 30 years.

She appealed to Europe’s highest court after Brexit stripped her of the right to vote in French local elections while EU nationals living in countries within the bloc other than their countries of citizenship are allowed to cast their votes in local elections. 

This does seem to breach what we had all been led to believe with the Withdrawal Agreement which was supposed to maintain the rights of Brits who had become residents in an EU country prior to the Brexit deadline.

But according to the ruling, British citizens who are residents in EU countries can now only vote or run for office if they obtain EU citizenship. 

The Luxembourg-based court ruled that British people who have lived in EU countries even prior to Brexit “no longer enjoy the status of citizen of the Union, nor, more specifically, the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections in their Member State of residence,” according to a court statement.

It said that “this is an automatic consequence of the sole sovereign decision taken by the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.” 

Bilateral deal with Spain

However, the United Kingdom and Spain struck their own bilateral deal on the matter back in January 2019.

The treaty signed was signed by then Brexit Minister Robin Walker MP and Spain’s then Secretary of State for the EU, Marco Aguirian in order to guarantee that British citizens living in Spain and Spanish citizens in the UK can continue to participate in local elections even after Brexit.

The treaty states that UK nationals will need to have resided in Spain for three years to exercise their rights to vote in municipal elections.

Only Spanish citizens have the right to vote in regional and national elections.

At the time Walker said: “I’m very pleased to have signed such an important treaty with one of our closest neighbours which maintains people’s ability to exercise their democratic rights, by standing and voting in local elections.”

Does the ECJ ruling trump the bilateral agreement?

Apparently not. An Embassy spokesperson told the Olive Press: “This judgement does not affect UK nationals’ right to vote and stand in local elections in Spain.

“These are provided by the bilateral agreement between the UK and Spain, which allows UK nationals who have lived in Spain for more than 3 years to vote and stand in local elections.”

 Who can vote and in what elections?

UK nationals can vote and stand in local elections in Spain once they have been resident for three years. To do so, they must:

  • be registered on the municipal register where they live (padrón municipal)
  • confirm their registration on the electoral roll (censo electoral), within the dates set by the electoral authorities before each election.
  • and be at least 18 years old on voting day

What elections in Spain can Brits vote in?

vote spain expat uk
Brits can vote in local elections in Spain but not regional or national. Element5 Digital/Unsplash

Voting rights for Brits only applies to local council elections. Foreign residents are not allowed a vote in regional elections or national elections in Spain, for that you must have Spanish citizenship.

One consequence of Brexit is that unlike those who are citizens of other EU nations in Spain, British citizens now do not have the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament.

But they can still vote back home

Brits may not be able to have a say in who runs the national government in Spain but they will always be able to cast a vote for a member of parliament back in the UK, no matter how long they live abroad.

Brits have only recently won the right to vote in elections in Britain regardless of the length of time they have lived outside the UK

After years of campaigning, the Conservative Party made good on an election promise to award ‘votes for life’ in the Electoral Reform Law passed in April.

It puts a stop to the rule that saw long term British expats denied the right to participate in the Brexit referendum in June 2016 by removing the 15-year limit on voting.

This applies to general elections for British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered to vote or have previously had a registered address in the UK. It is estimated that around 3.5 million Brits permanently reside abroad.


Fiona Govan

Fiona Govan joined The Olive Press in March 2021. She moved to Spain in 2006 to be The Daily Telegraph’s Madrid correspondent and then worked for six years as Editor of The Local Spain. She lives in Madrid’s Malasaña district with her dog Rufus.

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