Interview with our man in Madrid Hugh Elliott

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The British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliot visited the Balearics this week. Despite a busy schedule, he found time to sit down and talk to Newsletter on a wide range of issues.

Jason Moore: Ambassador, what is the situation with UK driving licenses in Spain?
-Hugh Elliott: Let’s be clear, we are talking about UK residents most of whom have been able to change their UK license to Spanish. Those who arrived more recently or those who weren’t quite energized at the end of the transition period weren’t able to do so and they were, understandably, very vocal about the issue. The transition period has been extended several times and the last one ended at the end of April. This legislation does not affect tourists, they can come here and drive with their UK licence. We have been in negotiations with the Spanish government, we had a ministerial meeting last week but we want to speed up the whole process. We are working very hard to try and get this through as quickly as possible, because we know how important this issue is. Pending the signing of an agreement, we have asked the Spanish government to allow UK citizens to use their UK driving license and we are awaiting a response. My message to the Brits who are caught up in this situation is that we are sorry, we know this is causing a lot of hardship but we are on it and we are working with Spain on the matter.”

Jason Moore: Is the green certificate of residence still valid?
Hugh Elliot: Absolutely, it is valid. Whether smallest or largest A4 format. We are aware of some instances where this has not been accepted at certain borders, but this is not correct. It is a valid residence permit. That said, we have encouraged UK citizens to exchange their green certificate for the new TIE residence cards, making your life in Spain easier.

Jason Moore: A difficult time for paperwork in Spain for UK citizens, how would you say the whole process went?
Hugh Elliot: It was a big change for many Britons in Spain. At first there was uncertainty, but we did a lot of work through the embassy and our consulates. The vast majority of paperwork issues have now been resolved. The driver’s license is one of the last remaining problems.

Jason Moore: You must be quite happy to see that the number of Britons living in Spain has actually increased?
Hugh Elliot: Yes! It’s true. We know the numbers have increased, but we may not be able to say that the number of Britons living in Spain has increased! We suspect that some people, who were not registered, have now registered with the Spanish authorities. Overall, this is good news. Some people said we would see a flood of Brits leaving Spain, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. We have 428,000 Britons living in Spain. That’s a big number.

Jason Moore: What are the relations between Britain and Spain at the moment, have they changed at all?
Hugh Elliot: Relations are very good between Spain and the United Kingdom. We have so much in common. There’s a lot going on, on the business side, Spain is key to British investment and millions of British tourists come here on holiday every year. But the links between peoples are extraordinary. We have discovered that the number of Spaniards living in the UK is much higher than we originally thought. When I started this work I was told there were 180,000 Spaniards living in Britain, but tens of thousands have now signed up and there are a similar number of Spaniards living in the UK. Uni only Britons living in Spain and they are only residents. It is a great testament to the important ties that exist between the two countries.

Jason Moore: You have excellent relations with the Balearic government…?
Hugh Elliot: We do. We have an excellent team at the Consulate General in Barcelona and at the Consulate in Palma. We had an excellent collaboration with the Balearic government and we are very grateful for it. We work together to ensure that we have safe tourism and that Britons living on the islands are taken care of.

Jason Moore: And Magallouf…..?
Hugh Elliot: We want Brits to come here, everyone wants Brits to come here (from Balearic Government to Mallorca Council to Calvia Council) and have a fantastic time and we want them to stay safe. We don’t want them hurting themselves. We all agree on this point. Before the pandemic there were 24 serious incidents in Magalluf, it doesn’t have to be like that. We launched our public awareness campaign from the UK, a simple message about the risks they probably hadn’t thought of and in 2019 there was a significant reduction in the number of incidents. Then the pandemic hit. I’m told Mallorca is heading for a good summer season so we’ve all re-launched the campaign. We are cautiously optimistic and very determined to continue this campaign and to protect young people and prevent them from suffering serious harm.

Jason Moore: And Gibralter?
Hugh Elliot: We have been working on the Gibraltar issue for many months, I have been very involved for some time now, and at the end of 2020 we reached a political agreement, which gives us a framework, which now needs to be transformed into a treaty between the European Union and Gibraltar. We are about to have the 8th round of negotiations, we have made very good progress, these issues are never easy. There are important issues to be resolved on both sides, but this agreement must be good for everyone. This is not a party giving up its sovereignty, that obviously would not be acceptable to the UK government. Gibraltar plays a key role in these negotiations. We want an area of ​​shared prosperity in and around Gibraltar, on both sides of the border.

Jason Moore: You have been an ambassador for three years…
Hugh Elliot: These three years have been unusual because of the pandemic and many people have suffered in different ways. I think our team across the Embassy and Consular network have done an amazing job of helping British citizens, tourists and residents, in these very difficult times. The dedication and commitment of our team in Spain was probably the highlight for me of my three years as British Ambassador.

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