The Battle of Brexit

Last November, Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was approved by her Cabinet. May then launched a five-day debate in the House of Commons in which it became clear that parliament would not approve the agreement.

May then caused outrage by postponing the parliamentary vote scheduled for 11th December and, after the brief matter of surviving a no-confidence vote proposed by ´hard’ Brexit supporters in her own party, she immediately headed off to the EU again in an attempt to gain more concessions. At the time of writing she has failed to do so.

There’s no argument about May’s resilience in the face of criticism from almost all sides, as she ploughs ahead with the single aim of delivering Brexit. It’s also true that no type of Brexit agreement will please everybody, as deep divisions between moderates and hard Brexiters become clearer every day.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was furious after he and his ERG group failed to unseat May, but while his ploy ended in humiliating failure, it still revealed a surprising level of opposition to the Prime Minister within her own ranks.

Meanwhile, for the country the continued uncertainty is exhausting and agonising. We now face a number of possible outcomes:

The two most talked-about possibilities at the moment are that May’s deal will scrape through parliament, or the UK will leave the EU on March 29th with no deal in place. Fear of the consequences of a no-deal exit may bring enough MPs around to support May’s deal, but this is far from guaranteed.

Other possibilities are the revocation or postponement of Article 50, which may occur in exceptional circumstances. One of these would be a general election, which might occur if the Labour party can find enough support for a no-confidence vote in the government. However, this does not appear likely right now.

The other possibility is that MPs propose a motion to revoke Article 50, which may gain wide support from MPs who oppose a hard Brexit. This would almost certainly lead to a second referendum.

Register Now
The principal message of Simon Manley, the British Ambassador to Spain, at a meeting with expats in Puerto del Carmen on November 30th was, “Register, register register”. Ambassador Manley strongly advised any UK national living in Spain to apply for residency at the office in Arrecife and register with their local council as soon as possible, if they have not done so already. “Be sure you are legally resident in Spain to ensure the citizens’ rights which have been agreed in the withdrawal agreement that the UK government has agreed with the EU”, he told the audience.

He recommended that this should be done before the official Brexit date of March 29th 2019, as rights will not be guaranteed in the case of a no-deal Brexit. However, if Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is accepted by parliament it will also be possible during the transition period lasting until December 2020.

The Ambassador advised “swallows” (those who spend more than 90 days in Spain in any given year) to register on arrival in Spain, as well as to deregister when leaving. He confirmed that the agreement contained provisions ensuring that British pensioners in EU countries would continue to receive increments in line with the UK.

He assured the audience that negotiations were underway to try and secure voting rights for UK residents in next May’s municipal elections, although he admitted these rights had not been approved by the European Council.

He also confirmed that onward or forward movement will also end with Brexit, meaning that UK residents in Spain will lose the automatic right to live and work in third EU countries.

What will change after Brexit?
At the time of writing, the United Kingdom will formally leave the European Union on March 29th. While the possibility of a second referendum or the revocation of Article 50 cannot be ruled out; that is the current state of affairs, and the main question is whether we will leave under Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement or without any deal at all.

These two outcomes will bring radically different consequences for UK nationals in Spain. If Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, or a slightly-amended version, is accepted by parliament, it will secure the rights of 1 million UK nationals currently living in the EU. It means that the 300,000 British people who have chosen to make Spain their home have a legal guarantee that they will be allowed to stay here after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.

The following information relates to the conditions in Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA). Contingency arrangements are currently being made for a No-Deal scenario but in this case, no rights have yet been guaranteed beyond March 29th. Nevertheless, neither the UK, the EU or Spain wish to see anyone sent home, and residents’ right to stay in Spain is unlikely to be threatened.

Under the WA, British citizens will continue to enjoy the right to visit, work and live in Spain until 31st December 2020. In the case of No-Deal, that date will be the 29th March 2019.

The British Embassy has stated that healthcare entitlement will remain broadly the same for those registered as Spanish residents (see above).

Voting Rights
The right for British citizens to participate in Spanish municipal elections, which take place this May, is not guaranteed by the WA, although Spanish authorities may still choose to grant it. British citizens will, of course, also lose the right to vote in the EU elections this May. British citizens who have been abroad for over 15 years will also remain ineligible to vote in UK elections and referendums, meaning that, for the time being, they will have no right to vote anywhere.

Travelling from the UK
The European Commission has confirmed that all non-EU citizens will be required to pay a €7 fee and fill in an online visa waiver form to visit Schengen zones of Europe (including the Canaries) from 2020. Currently, this appears likely to apply to all UK citizens, including holiday makers, after the transition period ends in December 2020.

Travel discounts
The 75% travel discounts to the Canary islands and mainland Spain that UK residents here are currently eligible for do not apply to members of non-EU states (unless they belong to the family of a EU national). There is no guarantee they will be continued after 29th March this year.

Freedom of movement
While you will be able to move freely between the UK and Spain to live and work until March 29th (Dec 2020 if the WA is approved), the right to move to a third country will end in December 2020. If you wish to move on from Spain to Portugal, Germany or France, for example, you will no longer have the automatic right to do so.

Driving licences
Holders of British licences resident in Spain are already required to swap their licences for Spanish ones, and this will remain the case during the WA transition period.

The WA guarantees that UK residents in EU countries will receive pension increments in line with the UK (unlike those in non-EU countries). However, many pension schemes are likely to be affected by Brexit and you are strongly advised to seek expert financial advice before March 29th.