27 Sep, 2022 @ 16:57
2 mins read

UK ambassador to Spain on driving licence debacle: ‘There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it’

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The United Kingdom’s ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliott, has released another update for UK nationals who have been left unable to drive since May of this year as negotiations on post-Brexit arrangements continue. 

In his message, released via the Brits in Spain Facebook account, the ambassador said that he too was “frustrated by the pace” of the talks but stated that there have been “unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve”.

“The Department for Transport in the United Kingdom and the Spanish Interior Ministry in Spain have been leading these negotiations with input from our respective foreign ministries,” Elliot stated in the 180-second video. “As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer.”

He added: “I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking,” before explaining that there “are only a couple of issues left”, but that they “are complex”. 

There is, he continued, “a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you”. In response to the regular calls for updates and timescales, he said that he “just can’t give you those things in this negotiation”. 

As for why UK licence holders cannot drive while the negotiations are ongoing, Elliott said that “we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted”. He said that the advice to take a Spanish test “remains valid, though we appreciate that this is hard”. 

Within two hours of publication on Facebook, the video had racked up nearly 200 comments, many from people expressing their frustration that the situation is dragging on. 

One of the people affected, Deb Lee, contacted The Olive Press this week to explain how “the stress of this is making me ill. I’m having regular migraines, panic attacks and nightmares, and now I have Sciatica on top of everything else. I’m 64 and truly beginning to think this is where I’m going to die, isolated, depressed and alone.” 

Barry Harding, meanwhile, emailed to say that he would be “upping sticks and getting out of here” if the situation is not resolved. “It’s a disgrace,” he added. “We live in Torrox Costa and it’s a 25-minute walk just for a pint of milk.” 

In response to the ongoing situation, a Facebook page has recently appeared called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid”. The page has more than 400 members and is aimed at “organising a demonstration at the British Embassy in Madrid regarding the problem of the exchange of British licences in Spain”. 

The Olive Press has been campaigning to get Brits back on the road, with more than 5,200 signatures now added to a parliamentary petition to call for progress on the issue. We urge our readers to sign the petition here.

How did we get here?

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 unable to drive 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 as the ambassador made clear today, there are still hurdles to be cleared.


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.

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