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Brexit uncertainty drives 64% of Spaniards in the UK to apply for residency

Foreign affairs officials from both countries have met in a bid to ensure equal rights for both communities

A policeman talks to anti-Brexit demonstrators in Thornton Manor.
A policeman talks to anti-Brexit demonstrators in Thornton Manor. AP

Uncertainty over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit, is pushing many foreigners in the country – in particular Spaniards – to register as residents.

According to the British government, 115,700 Spaniards have applied for the UK’s so-called “Settlement Scheme,” which guarantees the bulk of the rights they currently enjoy as EU citizens. This means that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the 180,000 Spaniards living in the UK, according to Spanish Foreign Ministry estimates, have applied to legalize their status.

Our offer and the Spanish offer are not symmetrical because they are different systems

British Embassy spokeswoman

The high figure was recorded in September, the month before the official (though not necessarily definitive) Brexit deadline of October 31. “We want Spaniards who are living in my country to remain there,” said Hugh Elliott, the new British ambassador in Spain, in a statement. The Spanish embassy in London is also conducting an awareness campaign to ensure Spaniards living there understand the importance of registering.

The Spanish government has informed London that it does not feel that Spaniards in the UK are being offered the same guarantees as Britons in Spain, which is home to the largest British community outside the UK.

Madrid has drafted a decree that leaves nearly intact the rights of the approximately 370,000 British nationals living in Spain. But the application of this decree depends on reciprocity from London, Spanish authorities have warned.

Representatives from the foreign departments of both countries met last week to discuss the matter further. “The meeting was positive, but not conclusive: we have requested further explanations about the British system,” said sources familiar with the meeting.

The meeting was positive, but not conclusive

Spanish foreign affairs official

The British model, which grants “pre-settled” and “settled” status to EU residents depending on the number of years they have been living in the UK, lets them work, study and have access to public healthcare. But Spanish authorities are worried about the legal force of this British mechanism. In Spain, the government decree regulating Britons’ rights will have the force of law once it goes into effect. The British system is a general scheme for all EU residents.

“Our offer and the Spanish offer are not symmetrical because they are different systems, but we feel that it reciprocates the generous Spanish offer,” said a spokesperson from the British embassy in Madrid.

Despite all the preliminary work, several elements will inevitably be left for the last minute, if and when a no-deal Brexit is no longer avoidable. The main challenges will then be guaranteeing equal access to healthcare and maintaining pension rights.

English version by Susana Urra.

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