DECEMBER 1 marks a full seven months since residents of Spain who hold a UK driving licence have been unable to legally take to the country’s roads, as a post-Brexit deal continues to be hammered out between the two countries. For Lanzarote resident Oggy Ogara, meanwhile, it also marks the second time that he has received a €500 fine from the Civil Guard as he defies the ban and continues to drive anyway.
‘It’s OK for people to say, “You should have changed your licence”, or “Retake your test”, but to find spare money to do that when you are surviving and just getting back on your feet [after the pandemic] was not an option for me,’ he told The Olive Press.
Ogara, 56 and who is originally from the Midlands, works as an entertainer so was particularly hard hit by Covid-19 given the restrictions in Spain’s bars and restaurants.
‘I have a 10-year-old daughter who lives in a different village with her mother, who doesn’t have a car. So I have to pick her up and drop her off at school. Buses are not an option,’ he explained. ‘I am self-employed, so have to pay my social security, taxes and asesoria, as well as insurance and ITV for my car. My job as an entertainer takes me all over the island, so no driving, no work.’
Ogara, who shares his time between Lanzarote, Portugal and Cornwall, added that he took the decision to carry on driving when the ban came into force on May 1, due to the failure of Spain and UK to reach a post-Brexit agreement on information exchange and licences.
‘I have been stopped twice, with a €500 fine each time,’ he said. ‘You can’t pay what you don’t have… I will wait for them to take me to court and try to sort out a payment plan then.’
As the debacle enters its eighth month, victims of the situation – who are not just UK nationals but also from countries such as Ireland and even Spain – are waiting for more news from the British ambassador, Hugh Elliott.
In his last video update, which was shared on the UK embassy’s social media accounts on November 18, the top diplomat in Spain announced that the ‘two outstanding complex issues’ that were still being negotiated between the two countries had 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 could not, however, offer a time frame for how long this would take, leaving desperate residents of Spain facing Christmas without being able to legally get on the road. There has been no further update since then and no sign that UK licence holders will be able to get back on the road in any kind of grace period.
‘If all is in order we should be given grace to drive, until [the deal] is finalised so we can get out and about to organise our Christmas,’ wrote Christine Ross-Harper in the Facebook campaign group ‘Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue’. ‘If we can’t drive this will ruin our Christmas, just like it ruined our summer. We are so down at the moment. This is going on too long, please give us our life back.’
The organisers of the Facebook group estimate that between 50,000 and 75,000 UK licences will have to be exchanged once the deal is finally done, and have concerns as to whether they can all be processed in time during the six-month grace period that will come into force as soon as the confirmation of the deal is published in Spain’s Official State Bulletin (BOE).
The Olive Press has been focusing on this issue, which is affecting readers across Spain, with its ‘U-turn campaign’, and is determined to highlight their experiences in the hope of putting pressure on the authorities to make it a priority to resolve the problem.
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