Blog: Spain and UK struggle to reach post-Brexit agreement on driving licences, causing stress and family rows – iNews

It should have been a swift bureaucratic formality. But more than six months after UK licences became invalid in Spain due to Brexit, there is still no new agreement on their recognition – and British expats say the delay is leading to health problems and family bust-ups.

The deal has been held up over the practicalities surrounding Spain’s insistence that the British government hands over drivers’ data so tourists who commit driving offences while on holiday can face fines, UK diplomatic sources have told i.

The UK reached swift reciprocal deals with 24 other European countries to recognise its licences. But talks with Spain show no sign of ending, raising suspicions that they are being linked to a deal involving Gibraltar.

Tourists on a UK licence can still drive in Spain for up to 90 days. But this is little comfort to the thousands of stranded expat Britons who complain, in some cases, that the stress has put them in hospital or forced them to leave the country they dreamed of moving to.

On a Facebook page set up to organise a protest about the delay, one woman wrote that it had damaged her relationship with her husband and had led to them considering splitting up or moving back to England.

“Unfortunately, the stress and pressure of not being able to drive, having two small kids, my husband having to reduce working hours to spend hundreds of euros and precious time to get a licence he already had, has broken our family,” the anonymous post said.

“I had the uncomfortable conversation of ‘you are not the woman you used to be, and we can’t live like this’.”

She added that what “was a dream… is now a nightmare”.

Deb Lee, 63, who is originally from Oxford but now lives on a campsite in Catral near Alicante on the Costa Blanca, was admitted to hospital suffering from stress which she blames on not being able to drive because of the row.

“I think I ended up in hospital because of stress and inability to get medication for existing conditions, lack of activity due to not being able to get out and meet people or go to fitness clubs,” she told i.

When i contacted Britons who were unable to drive because of the row, many told stories of moving to Spain and registering as residents but failing to exchange their licences due to bureaucratic problems or mix-ups with advisers.

Martyn O’Rourke, a retired banker, who moved with his wife Karen from the UK to Javea in south-eastern Spain in 2020, said they had been unable to exchange their British licences for Spanish ones.

Their home is a 50-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, so they depend on friends for lifts.

“The UK Government has been useless, but the Spanish are using us as political pawns. I would advise people not to move here,” he said.

Spain enacted a law to attract digital nomads last month but Mr O’Rourke questioned why Britons would make the move if they were unable to drive.

“You need a car to get anywhere in Spain so how can they say come here?”

More on Spain

Spaniards who lived in the UK but have returned home are also finding they cannot drive in their own country because they hold UK licences.

Sergio Cano Orihuela, who obtained his UK licence in 2013 and later returned to Spain, said it was “ridiculous” that Spain allowed tourists to drive but stopped their own nationals using their cars while the talks dragged on.

“This is having a huge impact on my life,” he said. “We are treated unfairly and feel we are being used as bargaining chips by the Spanish and UK governments.”

On Friday,  Hugh Elliott, the British Ambassador to Spain, announced an “important” development, saying that a deal over the driving licences still needed legal and political agreements between the two countries. 

He said that once this had been achieved then UK driving licence holders would have six months to exchange their licences for Spanish ones without having to take any test.

In that time they could drive in Spain with their UK licences. 

Spain declined to comment on whether the delay to agreeing a deal over the driving licences had anything to do with it being linked to a wider agreement on other bilateral issues.

A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman said that a “complex and technical negotiation” on the mutual recognition and exchange of driving licences and information about traffic offences had been under way since September 2020.

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