If you’re a British citizen under the age of 47 you will, by the time you read this magazine, no longer be a citizen of the European Union for the first time in your life.
Brexit got done at 11pm on 31st January, following Boris Johnson’s convincing victory in the December general election. But for British citizens in Spain, the questions, doubts and worries continue.
That’s why recently-appointed British Ambassador Hugh Elliott rounded off his first Canarian tour since being appointed last August with a trip to Lanzarote, where he hosted a talk and Q&A session on Brexit at the Fondeadero Centre in Puerto del Carmen.
Accompanied by Consul Charmaine Arbouin, Vice-Consul Jackie Stevenson, and Lanzarote’s Honorary Consul Sue Thain, the Ambassador confirmed that a no-deal Brexit had now been “put to one side” and that citizens’ rights had mostly been agreed.
He concluded his speech by urging British citizens in Spain to sort out their residency and driving licences by the end of this year, when the transition period ends.
During the Q&A session that followed, it became clear that many issues relating to future agreements between the Spanish and British governments will still need to be clarified, but that the rights of British citizens who are registered before the end of this year are largely guaranteed.
Our Editor, Shaun Addison, spoke to the Ambassador briefly before the talk.
Welcome to Lanzarote, Ambassador. Is it your first visit?
Yes, I’ve never actually visited the Canaries before, so I wanted to come as soon as possible, and especially because this moment is so important. There are still a lot of doubts about what Brexit actually means, and I hope to address some of the more important ones today.
What are the concerns that you hear from British citizens?
They’re very similar wherever I go: residence matters, health care and pensions, mostly. People want to know how Brexit is going to affect them now that it’s confirmed as going ahead.
And what message are you giving?
The message is mainly to clarify that “no deal” is now set aside, and that we are leaving with a deal in which citizens’ rights are guaranteed for British residents. What that means is that many matters relating to residency, healthcare and pensions have been guaranteed, and will remain guaranteed as long as you register before the transition period ends at the end of this year.
But there is still talk of a no-deal exit.
Yes, but that applies to the upcoming trade talks only. Your citizens rights are already protected.
The transition period was originally meant to be two years, but will now last for just 11 months. I suspect most British expats would welcome an extension, but is it likely?
It’s technically possible, but no; it’s not this government’s policy to extend. It’ll be intense, hard work, but I think a short deadline may concentrate minds on getting a trade deal quickly.
What aspects of citizens’ rights are not covered in the Withdrawal Agreement?
Two areas, mainly. First, onward free movement will not be allowed. That means that if a British citizen wants to move from Spain to another EU country, they will not have an automatic right to do so and will need to satisfy that country’s immigration requirements.
Secondly, non-resident British citizens will only be able to spend 90 days out of 180 in an EU country. This may affect the situation of “swallows” who spend several months in the winter here, and it’s something we’re very keen to resolve with Spanish authorities as soon as possible.
Why have the Brexit Support Officers been discontinued at a time when they may be needed most?
They provided important information that allowed us to make decision about how British citizens would be affected by Brexit, but now we’re leaving with an agreed deal and the questions of citizens are being addressed I expect the demand for information to decrease. If I return in six or seven months, I’d expect much fewer people to turn up.