SHARE
COPY LINK

EUROPE

‘Three weeks to find a miracle’: Europe reacts to yet more Brexit chaos

From Madrid to Rome, via Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague, the headlines across Europe summed up the feeling of despair with the Brexit process with Le Monde calling it a "Shakespearean tragedy".

'Three weeks to find a miracle': Europe reacts to yet more Brexit chaos
File photo: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP.

As the EU Council granted the British government a three week respite to get the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement approved by British MPs, headlines in EU news sites did not stack their odds on this happening.

“Theresa May's last chance: She has just under three weeks to find herself a miracle,” wrote Antonello Guerrera in a commentary piece in Rome-based daily Repubblica. 

French daily Le Monde wrote that Brexit was causing “a regime crisis” in the UK. The Paris-based daily compared the Brexit saga to a “Shakespearean tragedy.” Le Figaro daily called the EU's Brexit extension, which comes with the caveat that the UK must approve the Withdrawal Agreement, “a formidable trap” set by the EU27. 

Le Monde did however find time to pay tribute to the way the British were reacting to the crisis – with the self-deprecating humour they are known for.

“Confronted with an absurd political spectacle, they cling to their local specialty, black humour,” wrote Le Monde.

German media were equally drama-orientated. “The EU takes directorial control in Brexit drama,” was the headline in German online news site Spiegel Online. Munich-based daily Süddeutshce Zeitung ran with a more a conciliatory tone with its headline “Brexit chaos initially averted.”

'History will judge'

The daily noted new optimism from key EU figures that the deal could still be approved by the UK parliament: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it “was an intense but successful evening”;  EU Council President Tusk said he “optimistic” and Eu Commission President Juncker was cited as “hopeful” that the deal could still pass through the House of Commons, according to the daily. 

The general consensus in the German media was that the brief extension to Article 50 granted by the EU would only defer any Brexit chaos. “The EU gives Britain a reprieve and thus defuses the Brexit crisis – for the time being,” commented German news portal Handelsblatt. 

The view from Spain wasn't dissimilar. Spanish daily El Pais ran with the view of the Iberian country's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. “We are at a critical moment in the construction of Europe. History will judge what will happen in the coming weeks,” PM Sanchez told the Madrid-based daily. 

El Pais also noted that whatever mess comes, there will be enough toilet paper in the UK to clean up, reporting that German firm WEPA – a key supplier to the UK market – has stockpiled 600 tonnes of toilet paper at its UK warehouses in preparation for a no-deal. 

'A storm is coming'

“The prime minister has invested almost all her political prestige in guaranteeing the outcome of the referendum, and sail Brexit into harbour. The problem is that the British ship is not in port, but in the middle of the sea. And there's a storm coming,” wrote Erik de la Reguera in an analysis piece in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. 

READ ALSO: Sweden fast-tracks citizenship applications from Brits

“The future of Brexit lies in the hands of 10 Northern Irish people,” wrote Spanish-daily El Confidencial in an analysis piece, focusing on how Theresa May will need DUP votes to approve the deal at a third time of asking. 

“Think of the future of your country. Approve this deal,” said the Czech Republic's billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, addressing British MPs, according to a report in Czech broadsheet Hospodarske Noviny. 

“EU gives the British two extra weeks to get out of Brexit chaos,” wrote Dutch financial news site Het Financieelle Dagblad. 

READ ALSO: Cancel Brexit petition passes TWO MILLION signatures

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

SHOW COMMENTS