We are now heading into the second week of September. However, so far this month, there has been silence from the embassy regarding the driving license exchange agreement between the UK and Spain. Will we receive an official update tomorrow? If so, will the update contain new information?
Hugh Elliott, the British Ambassador for Spain and Andorra gave assurances in June that an agreement would be reached in a matter of weeks and not months. He also confirmed that both Spain and the UK governments would continue to work hard on this issue throughout August. However, he has been conspicuous by his absence recently.
Initially, every week on a Friday, the Ambassador would Tweet a video giving an update on the negotiations.
Let´s go back a few notches. On April 29, Elliott posted a video on social media confirming that an agreement would not been reached by the end of the latest extension of the grace period given by Spain. The final grace period ended on April 30. What that meant for British citizens resident in Spain for longer than 6 months, was their UK issued driving license was no longer valid from May 1. Elliot then advised that driving without a valid license would be illegal. He then continued to state, “if you are affected by this change and need to be able to drive, you shouldn´t wait for the outcome of the negotiations. And what you should do is take immediate steps to apply for a Spanish driving license”. He also added that he has been advising this for some time now in any case.
At the beginning of May, Elliot advised that a further grace period had been requested. He also mentioned one of the issues delaying negotiations was Spain´s request that data on vehicle owners be included. Furthermore, he reiterated the UK government was absolutely committed to reaching a deal as soon as possible. But he said no guarantees can be given. So once again he stated “if it is imperative you drive, you should be looking into taking a Spanish test”.
By the middle of May, Elliot posted his understanding as to how frustrating this must be. But he was hopeful an agreement would be reached in the coming weeks. Once again, he advised he was fully committed, but urged people to take a test as there were no guarantees.
By this point, it was already sounding like a disclaimer.
Period of grace not extended
Many people posted questions on social media, as the reality of not being able to drive soon was becoming clear. In his next social media video, Elliot acknowledged this and said he understood the anger, anxiety, and frustration of people. But, he hoped they would understand that he could not go into all the details of the negotiations. However, at that point, he was still optimistic that continued talks would allow UK license holders to drive during negotiations. This did not happen, and the grace period was not extended further.
Towards the end of May, the message issued was, “we’re working as fast as we can and making good progress”.
So, in summary, May ended as it began. No real update, no promises, and no guarantees.
This month´s first social media video update opened with the “no promises, no guarantees” disclaimer. Previously, this was at the end of the video. Perhaps this was changed to the beginning, because it is more likely for everyone to hear it. Otherwise at the end, there is a possibility of switching off early, and missing the full annoucement.
At this point, the weather was beginning to get hotter, which was acknowledge by the Ambassador as he gave assurances his goal was the same as those affected. This was to get people back on the road as soon as possible.
By the middle of June, Elliott seemed more positive in his official statement. He advised that the UK and Spain were now in agreement on the core issues. Therefore, they were very close to finalising the actual text of the agreement. He contined to say once this happened, things would move to the next stage.
“A matter of weeks, not months”
Elliot clarified the data that Spain is looking for relates mainly to those visiting Spain on a UK driving license. He further stated that although no date could be guaranteed, the good news was Spain had agreed to a clause that will allow everyone back on the road the minute the agreement is signed. From this point, there would be a 6 month window to exchange their license. He also said that again, while there were no guarantees, as they were in the final stages of reaching an agreement, he expected this to take “a matter of weeks, not months”.
Once again, while he said no guarantees could be given, he said “his best estimate was looking at a date of having people back on the road around the end of July”.
This was a good date to aim for, as of course, many people take holidays during August.
Towards the end of June, there was no real update from Elliot, except for him to say, “what I said last week still stands”. So with only a few weeks before the end of July, things were looking up. According to many social media posts, people around the country started making appointments for medicals in preparation of being able to get back driving. Also, some people who had started the costly process of taking the Spanish theory and practical driving tests stopped. This was in the hope they could simply swap licenses over in a few weeks time.
However, once again, another month ended with no firm assurances.
July began with confirmation of the commitment from the Ambassador and his staff in the Embassy that they continued to work hard and treat this issue as a priority. However, by mid-July, things were not looking like people would be back on the road any time soon. The update given at this time, was that they were continuing to refine the text and working on some legal clarifications before the agreement could go forward to final legal and political approvals. He said Spain had delivered more legal documents, and once again whilst he couldn´t go into the detail, this was a good step forward.
For the remainder of July, the updates came in the form of common questions and answers. One such question was “will negotiations go on into August?”. The answer given to this was as follows;
Yes. Last week we said that we’d sought assurances on this and that, on the UK side, we had a full negotiating team available. Spain have now confirmed that they can continue negotiations with us over August, which we’re very grateful for.
Still no personal message from Hugh Elliott, however Minister Karl McCartney, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (the UK Government Department leading on driving licence negotiations) provided a message of reassurance. This was to let those of you affected by the ongoing negotiations know that the Department recognises your frustrations and the impact on you. His message was also to once again convey that they remain committed to getting you back on the road as soon as possible.
However, it seemed that initially McCartney got his message mixed up, and an updated version was issued to make it clear that the Agreement was now finalised and they were working on the annexes.
At this point, people took to social media once again asking that if the agreement had been reached, why could people not drive while the annexes were being worked on?
An official response came the following week in the update post. It said;
This week, we have continued working with the Spanish Government to settle the small number of outstanding points in the annexes. We still have a full team on this, working as quickly as they can to conclude the negotiations, so that you can get back on the road as soon as possible.
The final update post for August simply advised, that the negotiations remained a top priority. And the teams were working hard to conclude them as quickly as possible. It stated that in the last two weeks, further progress on the annexes has been made. However they were waiting for the Spanish to come back regarding some outstanding points.
There has been no video update from the Ambassador since the middle of July. Furthermore, so far this month, there has been absolutely no update from the official Consulate & Embassy Facebook page. Moreover, it is clear from the comments on this Facebook page, that people are very angry and stressed. They feel cheated and lied to, when all they are asking for is an honest update with some kind of timeframe. Many talk of the impact on their health, as well as on their pocket, and wonder when this will come to a conclusion.
Perhaps tomorrow there will be some news or update!