25 Sep, 2022 @ 16:59
3 mins read

UK driving licence holders flock to Facebook page inviting ‘Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid’

Screenshot 2022 09 25 At 11.38.56

Frustration among holders of British driving licences in Spain who have been left unable to take to the roads since May 1 appears to be reaching boiling point, with some of those affected having joined a Facebook page called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid”. 

According to the page, which was created earlier this month and counts on 358 members, the aim of the group “is to organise a demonstration at the British Embassy in Madrid regarding the problem of the exchange of British licences in Spain”. The page makes clear that “any violence or calls for violence will not be tolerated”.

The exasperation of those affected by the issue, however, is clear for all to see in the comments. “It’s so frustrating when you try to do things by the book and then get punished as if we had ignored everything,” complained Edward Lambert in response to a post from The Olive Press inviting feedback. 

In fact, six emails were sent to our newspaper within just two hours on Sunday morning. Christine Asparassa, for example, wrote to tell a familiar story, one of administrative problems in exchanging the licences before the deadline, despite having taken on the services of a lawyer. 

“We travelled to [our lawyer] in December [2020] and gave her all the copies of the required documents and thought nothing more of it,” Christine explained. “Now we have not been able to drive for six months. She really did not help us and we immediately sacked her, as we felt she let us down drastically.”

“My husband has terminal cancer and is frequently staying in hospital for sometimes two weeks,” complained Elizabeth. “It is impossible for me to visit as I simply cannot afford €40 plus a day,” she added, in reference to the cost of taxi rides. 

Screenshot 2022 09 25 At 11.38.56
A screenshot of the Facebook group.

Martyn O’Rourke, meanwhile, was highly critical of the British Embassy in Madrid and its top diplomat Hugh Elliot. “The ambassador has made no statement since mid-July, which is a disgrace,” he complained via email. “We have done everything we can to abide by the rules in Spain, yet we have been banned from driving.”

An email from Isra Rojas González also showed, once again, that the issue is not just limited to UK residents. “I am a Spanish national and I hold a British driving licence, because I passed my tests in Britain,” he wrote. “I came from Britain a year ago and this situation is affecting [my ability] to find work in my country.”

One of the admins of the Facebook group, Pascal Siegmund, has been posting regular updates on the plans for a protest. Unfortunately, the fact that many of the people affected cannot currently drive in Spain is complicating their ability to come from other parts of the country to Madrid to demonstrate. 

According to a message posted by Siegmund on Friday, a possible date for a protest is October 13. An idea has also been mooted for a protest outside the DGT traffic authority offices in the country’s provincial capitals.

The current situation arose on May 1 after a deadline expired, making UK licences invalid for anyone who had been resident for more than six months in Spain. The deadline had been extended five times by Spanish authorities as negotiations dragged on. 

Before Brexit, UK vehicle ownership data was shared with other EU member states. Spain has since requested access to data for UK-registered vehicles who have committed traffic offences in Spain via an automated system, as part of a formal agreement for driving licence exchange for UK licence holders. The initial sticking point in the negotiations was reported to be that the British authorities wanted to keep the two issues separate. 

Anyone left in this situation can currently take a driving test in Spain – something that has been complicated by cost, high demand and language issues – or wait for an agreement between the two sides. 

The British embassy announced in late July that the main text for an agreement to allow Brits resident in Spain to swap their licences for Spanish ones had been agreed. But the latest update, released on September 16, said that progress was being made but that they “cannot be definitive about the timescale”.

Speaking to this reporter back in early May, a spokesperson from the DGT traffic authority said that a solution would only be a few weeks away, something that was echoed by a UK government spokesperson. But nearly five months have passed, and the victims of the situation are clearly growing ever-more desperate for a solution to be found.


Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

1 Comment

  1. Obviously the Spanish driving license problem is not on the priority list of Liz Truss! Wasn’t she in charge as Boris Johnson’s foreign minister?
    In Germany we face another ‘international drivers problem’: 1 million refugees from Ukraine have come to Germany, thereof many by their own car, but without a valid Ukrainian insurance policy for international travel. In case of a traffic accident, who will pay the bill? Or how may we charge a Ukrainian insurance company, which now is located in Ukrainian territory occupied by the Russians? Shouldn’t the British and the German government work together to update the 1968 United Nations Road Safety Conventions on international traffic?

    Location : Germany

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