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BREXIT

OPINION: Why EU results aren’t bad news for those of us fighting Brexit

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain explores what the EU election results mean for those Brits in Europe fighting Brexit.

OPINION: Why EU results aren't bad news for those of us fighting Brexit
Photo: AFP

On Sunday 26th May, British citizens throughout Spain joined their Spanish neighbours in voting – many for the first time – in local and European elections.With a choice of voting for the EU elections in their ‘home’ or ‘host’ country, many Brits chose to vote in the UK to voice their opinions about Brexit. Others elected to vote in Spain. For some people, that was their only option, having been disenfranchised from voting in the UK.

Here in Spain, the experience of voting in the EU and local elections was quick and easy, and the ‘extranjero’ voters were welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, the experience for EU citizens in the UK was rather different, with many being turned away at polling booths. British citizens living abroad who had selected a postal vote faced significant problems, with ballot papers failing to arrive in time, if at all.

This further disenfranchisement of British citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK caused a stir on social media, with #DeniedMyVote trending on Twitter. Because of the outcry, British in Europe and the 3Million are examining the feasibility of a legal challenge over this issue, and questions have been raised in both Westminster and Brussels.

READ MORE: 

Despite many hundreds of thousands of people being prevented from voting, the EU elections had the largest turnout across the continent for over two decades. The motivation for many voters, in the UK and across Europe, was clearly a desire to rally against the rise of the far-right.

In the UK, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won the largest number of seats – although fewer than predicted. Most were taken directly from Ukip, which failed to retain a single seat. Voters failed to be impressed by party leader, Gerard Batten, and his sidekick – the notorious Tommy Robinson.

Nigel Farage naturally claimed a massive victory and, as usual, garnered endless media attention. Remain campaigners pointed out that the Brexit Party’s ‘spin’ didn’t depict the whole picture. In fact, it was the Remain supporting parties – LibDems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Change.UK – that could rightly claim the victory, having secured around 40% of votes compared to the Brexit Party’s 35%. In fact, the number of seats for Brexit supporting parties (Brexit Party, Ukip and Conservatives) has declined by 10, compared to the 2014 EU election results.

The surge of voters abandoning the Conservative and Labour parties was significant, as was the considerable increase in seats for all explicitly pro-Remain/pro-referendum parties. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party had their best results to date – a position that was widely reflected across Europe.

Concerns in Brussels that the far-right would gain increased support proved unfounded. In fact, the balance of the European Parliament has shifted more to the left, with an increase in both the Green and Liberal groupings. The ALDE group is now the largest group in the European parliament.

In response to Labour’s poor showing, with their seats halved, Jeremy Corbyn said the Conservatives were “disintegrating and unable to govern” and, with parliament in deadlock, Brexit would have to go back to the people “through a general election or a public vote”.  The Labour party leadership will now be under enormous pressure from its own MPs, MEPs and members to climb off the fence and fully support Remain and a #FinalSay referendum.

With the Conservative party in disarray, and a leadership contest underway for the next Prime Minister, it remains to be seen how the EU election results will influence a newly-elected leader. The number of potential candidates to replace Theresa May is increasing daily – there’s barely a cabinet minister that hasn’t thrown their hat into the ring!

It seems likely that our new Prime Minister will be a Brexiter, possibly even a Brextremist. Many of the candidates are claiming that ‘no deal’ should be back on the table – or is the desired destination. It’s blatantly clear that the Conservatives are worried about Farage and his followers. However, the government could reflect that, perhaps, it’s facing in the wrong direction: the bigger threat is coming from pro-Europeans.

We cannot deny that Farage and his Brexit Party machine have made a significant impact on British politics and will continue to influence events in Westminster. However, the pro-Europeans are still here, we’re growing in numbers, and we’re making progress.

More importantly, we’re still in the European Union! As re-elected Labour MEP Julie Ward said: “Every day we don’t Leave the EU is a day to Stop Brexit – the fight is on!”

We’re ready!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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