It has been 20 years since the new British Ambassador to Spain and non-resident Ambassador to Andorra, Hugh Elliot, last lived and worked in Spain and yesterday, he admitted to the Bulletin that while he is extremely pleased to return and is deeply impressed with the close commercial, institutional and personal relations between the two countries, he has arrived with a heavy brief to contend with - Brexit.
The Ambassador, who more recently played a key role in the Brexit process as the Director for Communications and Stakeholders at the Department for Exiting the European Union, met his wife Toñi while working as an English teacher at the University of Salamanca and Spain was his first diplomatic posting in the nineties.
His two children were born in Madrid and he also spent a short period working as a ‘tour guide’ for educational groups in some of Spain’s most beautiful cities. “But, I never got to the Balearics. I have always wanted to visit the islands and now I have no excuse and I intend to visit the British community and my staff in the region within the next three months. I want to hear first hand how British residents enjoy their lives in the Balearics and, more importantly, what their concerns are and how, in cooperation with the local authorities, we can address any matters which require attention,” the Ambassador said.
However, in the short-term, the biggest challenge for the Ambassador, his team across the country and the British community is Brexit.
“What struck me the most on my arrival was how willing and determined the Spanish authorities in Madrid are to ensure that the lives of Spanish nationals living and working in the UK and those of British citizens here in Spain are affected as least as possible by Brexit."
“Spain has drawn up a royal decree to ensure that lives continue as they are as much as possible and the UK has adopted a similar approach. Obviously, the two countries have differing procedures, rules and regulations but these are not considered stumbling blocks and both the Spanish and British governments, through all the channels available, be it via social media, ‘reach out meetings” or the media, are working round the clock to keep citizens fully up to speed with any changes and developments."
“I have to congratulate my team around the country with the work the various consulates are carrying out with keeping the local commentaries informed and through a series of meetings I have had with representatives of the British communities here in Spain, I am well aware of what the main concerns and worries are, and I fully understand why, although at times, I feel that headlines appear which do little to help ease those fears."
“But, as the Foreign and Commonwealth office, the British government and the Embassy have been advising people, there are five simple steps to take to prepare oneself for Brexit and, in short, that is to make sure one is in the system."
“Britons living in Spain must make sure they are registered and have their green card or A4 paper, they have their health care situation in order and that they have exchanged their UK driving licence for a Spanish one, for example."
“On the point about driving licences it is important to note that UK nationals must request an exchange by 1 November. This can be done online at www.dgt.es/es/, in person or on the phone. There is then a nine-month grace period for the actual exchange to take place and during which time UK licences will still be accepted in Spain. Providing British citizens in Spain follow the simple advice we are proving, there are no grounds to be worried about the future."
“Neither Madrid nor London want the current status quo to change. Spain is one the largest investors in the UK and vice versa for the UK. The UK is extremely popular for Spanish students, there are some 13,000 currently in the UK."
“And, of course there is tourism. Some 18.5 million Britons came to Spain last year and this year, the figure will be similar while over 2.5 million Spaniards have visited the UK.
“So, what Spain and the UK are working at, and are making very good ground, is to make sure that post Brexit, the close ties and relationships that currently exist at all levels remain the same and that life continues as normal for all those who are legally resident,” the Ambassador stressed.
To check the specific actions you need to take, and stay up to date, go to Living in Spain Guide at www.gov.uk/livinginspain.