20 Dec, 2022 @ 15:00
3 mins read

Spanish driving licence debacle victims: ‘If we can’t exchange by February, we’re going back to the UK’

U Turn Cover 2
Photo: Pixlar/Rawpixel

VICTIMS of the ongoing driving licence debacle are facing Christmas without being able to get back on the roads, as the final deal between the UK and Spain over document exchange is yet to become a reality. 

The ban from the roads for UK licence holders who were unable to – or did not – exchange their documents in time began on May 1, as both sides continued negotiations on post-Brexit arrangements. 

Having already suffered the summer without legal use of their vehicles, victims of this situation – who are not just British, but also Irish, Spanish and German – now face the Christmas holiday with no change in the situation, and what’s more, are approaching their eighth full month of the restrictions.

The victims have once again been in touch with the Olive Press to share their nightmare situations. 

‘I’m autónomo [freelance] as a musician and usually Christmas and New Year’s Eve would be the most popular time for me, but I can’t get back from gigs or transport equipment,’ said Sarah (not her real name). ‘This is after losing all of my gigs last Christmas as I was isolating on my own with Covid.’

‘It saddens me that after spending money on a house and a new car in April, thinking they will let us exchange, we can’t explore Spain or go out anywhere,’ said Lorraine. ‘If they don’t allow us to exchange by February we are selling up and going back to the UK.’

‘Unable to access antenatal care’

‘I am currently six months pregnant with my fourth child,’ said Caroline, 39, who lives in Barcelona province. ‘I find myself in the position of being a single parent here in Spain. I have three young children, aged six, four and one. My pregnancy is medically “high risk”, and I have been unable to access antenatal care because of the driving ban. This means I have missed essential scans and blood tests.’

When the Olive Press requested an update from the UK embassy in Madrid, they referred the newspaper to the latest statement released via their social media channels. 

‘The UK’s legal checks have now been completed and a final version is with Spain for agreement on their side,’ the text reads. ‘We will update again before the Christmas break and work with Spain will continue between Christmas and New Year.’

The statement also said that the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Spanish Foreign Minister Albares had agreed that ‘we are close to completing this process’ when they held a meeting in Madrid last week to discuss a post-Brexit deal on Gibraltar. 

No answers 

The Olive Press also contacted Spain’s DGT traffic authority to ask when the deal will be published in the Official State Gazette (BOE), thus letting UK licence holders back on the road for a six-month period while they apply for the exchange, and why the victims have not been able to drive for this nearly eight-month period. 

The DGT referred the Olive Press to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, who did not respond to the same questions.

Pascal Siegmund set up the campaign group on Facebook ‘Invasion of the British Embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue. He told the Olive Press that ‘we are fully disappointed that this issue has not been completed by Christmas, and our Facebook  group members remain in a state of limbo over the festive period. 

British embassy meeting
British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott (c) at a meeting in October with Pascal Siegmund (second from l) and other members of the Facebook campaign group.

‘We are very close to our eighth-month driving ban. I remain personally concerned about the consequences on people’s mental health,’ he added. 

In the meantime, it will be a complicated Christmas for victims of the situation. ‘No visiting friends or neighbours, no posting Christmas cards or visiting our postbox to retrieve those we’ve been sent,’ said Karen via Facebook. ‘Just a normal day, trapped in our home wondering if our car still starts and missing every Christmas past.’

U-turn campaign

Over this year, the Olive Press has been drawing attention to 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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