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Spain, UK sign deal guaranteeing voting rights for residents after Brexit

The agreement will guarantee the chance for Spaniards and Britons to participate in, and run for, the municipal elections due to be held in May in their adoptive countries

Marco Aguiriano (l) and Robin Walker sign the deal on Monday morning.
Marco Aguiriano (l) and Robin Walker sign the deal on Monday morning. EFE

Voting rights for Britons residing in Spain and for Spaniards living in the United Kingdom will not be affected by “Brexit,” as the process of the latter country’s withdrawal from the European Union is commonly known. That’s thanks to a deal reached today by the governments of both countries, after they agreed to preserve the participation of the two collectives in municipal polls – the only ones in which EU citizens have an automatic right to take part in when they opt to live in another member state.

The agreement will cover the  300,000 Britons who live in Spain and the 175,000 Spaniards resident in the UK

The deal between Madrid and London, the first of its kind that has been established in the context of the Brexit process, will guarantee the status quo ahead of the local elections that Spain will hold on May 26, and the United Kingdom will hold on May 2.

After the signing of the deal, the undersecretary of state for the Department of Exiting the European Union, Robin Walker, said that the agreement would “even cover a no-deal scenario,” meaning that Britons and Spaniards will still be able to vote in their respective countries should the UK crash out of the EU on March 29 of this year.

The agreement will cover the approximately 300,000 Britons who live in Spain on a permanent basis, and the 175,000 Spaniards resident in the UK. It will mean that these citizens can both vote in municipal elections, and also run as candidates. While there are no official figures to draw on, British sources estimate that there are several dozen Britons holding such roles in Spanish local councils.

In order to exercise these rights, Spain will require that British citizens have lived in the country for at least three years (in the case of future elections, not in 2019), and that they are registered on the Electoral Census of Foreigners Resident in Spain by January 30. The deal, which was approved by the Spanish Cabinet on Friday, will have to pass through parliament, but will be put into place on a provisional basis as soon as the UK leaves the EU.

Given their common interest in preserving voting rights, the two countries found few obstacles in the negotiations over this deal

Given their common interest in preserving voting rights, the two countries found few obstacles in the negotiations over this deal. More complicated, however, have been the talks over Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory located in southern Spain over which the latter country has a historical claim. Several weeks ago, Spain and the UK signed a series of memoranda related to Gibraltar, which will set out the framework for relations between the territory and its neighbor after Brexit, even if there is a no-deal scenario. According to Walker and his Spanish counterpart, the Spanish secretary of state for the EU, Marco Aguiriano, there are “still some wrinkles to be ironed out” on this issue, in particular the approval of a tax deal that will limit the ability of businesses in Gibraltar to unfairly compete with Spain.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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