21 Nov, 2022 @ 12:16
3 mins read

‘Two outstanding issues’ on driving licences have been resolved, says UK ambassador to Spain

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THE NEAR SEVEN-MONTH nightmare being suffered by residents of Spain who hold UK driving licences might nearly be over, according to the latest statement released by British ambassador Hugh Elliott. Since May 1 people in this situation have been unable to legally take to the Spanish roads, causing outrage among victims who in many cases are in a vulnerable situation. 

Speaking via a video released on social media, the top diplomat stated on Friday that the ‘two outstanding complex issues’ that were still being negotiated between the two countries as part of post-Brexit arrangements have been resolved.

‘We’ll now take forward the remaining steps including legal checks, securing ministerial approval on both sides – which for Spain, is by the Consejo de Ministros, the Spanish Cabinet – and the necessary treaty processes and formal exchanges,’ he said in the brief recording. 

The ambassador was not, however, able to confirm how much longer the remaining steps would take. ‘But I can tell you that the process is already underway,’ he said. 

‘Once those legal and political approvals are done, confirmation will be published in the BOE,’ Elliott explained, in reference to Spain’s Official State Bulletin. ‘At that point, you will then have six months to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one. And during that time, you’ll be able to drive using your existing valid UK licence.’

As has become customary in his video messages about the driving licence debacle, the ambassador offered words of sympathy for the victims of the situation. ‘I know this hasn’t been an easy time for those of you who’ve been unable to drive but I hope that this latest news gives you some reassurance and helps you consider your next steps,’ he said. ‘We’ll keep you up to date on further developments and provide more information on the process for licence exchange itself.’

By Monday, his video had racked up more than 600 comments on Facebook. While some voiced their gratitude to the ambassador for his message, others expressed impatience. ‘If the agreement is made, why can we not drive until the legal finalisation of the deal?’ asked one user. 

British embassy meeting
Four victims of the driving licenses debacle meet with Hugh Elliott on October 18 at the British embassy in Madrid.

‘So basically we still can’t drive!’ complained another. ‘Legal and political sign off can take weeks or even months yet! It’s nice to know how much the Spanish Government values us, their British customers.’

Barcelona resident Pascal Siegmund is one of the victims of this situation, and set up a campaigning group on Facebook called ‘Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue’, which now counts on more than 800 members. The group estimates that between 50,000 and 75,000 UK licences will have to be exchanged, and has concerns over the process after a deal is done. 

‘We were pleased to learn that there is now an agreement between the UK and Spain for the exchange of permits,’ he told The Olive Press. ‘However, it will remain a failure to have been banned from driving for almost seven months now with all the side effects that this has caused. Now we hope that the approval process will happen as soon as possible but we are still concerned about whether the thousands of exchanges can be processed in time by the Spanish administration within six months.’

Siegmund, along with three more representatives from the group met with the British ambassador in October in order to convey their concerns and stories of the other victims of the situation. At that meeting, Elliott insisted that the delay to the negotiations was not related to parallel talks between Spain and the UK about the future of Gibraltar post-Brexit

In May, when the deadline for a deal ran out and UK licence holders resident in Spain were left unable to legally take to the roads, both sides on the negotiation pointed to information exchange about drivers for the purpose of traffic fines as being the sticking point, with the UK wanting to keep that separate from licence exchange. 

But since then there has been near total silence from Spain and the UK as to why the process is taking so long, something that has left many victims of the situation furious and in some cases resigned to having to leave Spain and move back home.

The Olive Press has been highlighting the issue affecting readers across Spain with its ‘U-turn campaign’, and is determined to highlight their experiences in the hope of adding pressure on the authorities to make it a priority to resolve the problem. 

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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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