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Madrid and London drafting deal to preserve voting rights after Brexit

Spanish Foreign Ministry wants to ensure UK migrants will be able to vote and run for office in local elections next May

UK PM Theresa May and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez in Brussels.
UK PM Theresa May and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez in Brussels. EFE

Madrid and London are negotiating a bilateral treaty to maintain local voting rights for the 280,000 British nationals living in Spain and the more than 115,000 Spaniards residing in the UK, said diplomatic sources.

On March 30, 2019, the UK will exit the European Union and British migrants will lose their right to vote in municipal elections.

The Spanish and British parliaments must ratify the deal once it is signed by Madrid and London

Whether or not British Prime Minister Theresa May secures parliamentary approval for the Brexit deal, UK nationals will no longer be considered EU citizens after that date.

If there is agreement on the transition period, UK citizens in Spain will preserve most of their rights intact until December 2020, but this does not extend to voting in the municipal and European elections of May 26, 2019.

Once it is signed, the deal will be in the same category as any other international treaty and will require ratification by the Spanish and British parliaments. This will probably not happen in time for the May 26 elections next year, diplomatic sources have admitted.

In order to work around this problem, the Spanish Foreign Ministry is considering the option of making the agreement go provisionally into force as soon as it is signed by both governments.

Largest community

Spain is home to the largest community of British migrants in the entire EU. This group of around 280,000 people also represents the second-largest community from a European country living in Spain, after Romanians.

Countries with voting rights

On May 26, 2019 the citizens of 39 countries, besides Spaniards themselves, will be able to vote in local and European elections: the other 27 member states of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Cape Verde, New Zealand, South Korea, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The reciprocal rights agreement that Madrid and London are working on is similar to what Spain already has with a dozen countries including Norway, Iceland and several Latin American nations.

But there is one added feature to this particular draft deal: citizens will not only be able to vote in local polls, but also be elected to office. This additional right recognizes the fact that there are already British nationals who are working as elected councilors in several Spanish municipalities.

According to data compiled by the center-right party Ciudadanos, there are currently 37 British councilors in Spain: 19 in the Valencia region (which is home to 31.4% of the UK community in Spain), eight in Andalusia (home to another 31%), with the rest spread out in the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia.

Collateral damage

Losing their voting rights is just one of the “collateral damages” of Brexit, in the words of Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell. There are other rights that the British community is considerably concerned about, such as residency, work and access to the public healthcare system.

Borrell said last Thursday that the Spanish government will work closely with the UK Embassy in Madrid to encourage British nationals who are not yet registered in Spain to do so. The minister estimated that there are still “several tens of thousands” of Britons living in Spain whose presence is not reflected on any municipal register.

The Foreign Ministry is also planning to reinforce its presence in the UK by opening a new consulate in Manchester.

English version by Susana Urra.

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