EXCLUSIVE: British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott talks driving licences, the 90-day rule and embassy help

EXCLUSIVE: British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott talks driving licences, the 90-day rule and embassy help

EXCLUSIVE: British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott talks driving licences, the 90-day rule and embassy help. Image: Gov.uk

FOLLOWING the news that the Spanish government had finally given approval to an agreement allowing UK nationals to exchange their driving licences for Spanish ones, the Euro Weekly News interviewed British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott for his take on events.

The British Ambassador told the EWN: “First of all, I want to say this has been a long process- far longer than anyone would have wanted- and it’s been really tough for people.

“I haven’t lived it personally but I’ve felt a little like I have because of how well people have expressed what this agreement has meant to them.

“It’s affected people very personally, very directly, and in no way do we underestimate that.”

Speaking about negativity over delays in the agreement process, the ambassador said: “We understand the criticism.

“There’s been a team in the embassy, the UK Department for Transport, and in the Spanish government working on this literally every day for some time but sometimes these things sadly do just take longer than expected.”

The ambassador added that now the agreement is in place, it is imperative that expats get on with their licence exchanges.

He told the EWN: “Do get on, make an appointment with the DGT, get your pyscho-physical test booked before you go to the DGT.  If you need any help we can point you in the right direction.  It’s important that people don’t think they can now forget about this.”

The ambassador also spoke to the EWN about any hopes to much vilified 90/180 day rule.

While he was firm that there was no prospect of any changes to the rule in the near future, he revealed that the Spanish government still debate this issue internally.

He explained: “This is often raised with me by many visitors here and of course in the areas where there a lot of Brits with second homes, especially in the Canary Islands and Costa del Sol.

“The Spanish realise they have a vested interest in helping Britons in Spain and there are elements of the Spanish authorities who realise it’s a win-win.  There is currently no negotiation over this but it is still on the table and debated internally in the Spanish government.

“It’s important to be realistic though that there won’t be any change in the short term.”

The ambassador also explained that in many other ways however Brexit, one of the most hotly-debated subjects among expats over the last seven years, hasn’t changed much about every day lives.

He said: “Because we actually left the EU at the same time we had Covid, it initially made significant changes to people’s lives.

“However, all sides from the outset were determined to protect people’s rights through the withdrawal agreement.  And when issues- like driving licences- have come up we have tried to resolve them.

“In other ways though, a lot hasn’t changed.  Tourism is still thriving and last year was a great year for Spain.  There’s still a lot of movement and a lot of business.”

Beyond simply diplomacy however, the embassy also has another important role; helping Britons in need and pushing out accurate, up to date information.

The Euro Weekly News spoke to the ambassador about how the embassy can get involved when people need it most, including in cases of homelessness, lost passports, or simply on red tape when they don’t know where else to get accurate information.

He said: “There are a number of ways we can help.  Firstly obviously through the gov.uk and through our Living In guides.

“However if people get into difficulty where they need help they should call our consulates.  They will get pointed in the direction where they can find help.

“We will help as soon as we possibly can.  We have an extensive team who can assist.  Even if people just have a specific question about living in Spain then they can make a quick call to the consulate.”

The British Ambassador added that the embassy is soon to publish even more helpful information for expats.

He explained: “We have commissioned Age in Spain to put together information to complement our Living In guide with tips about coming to Spain and this will be published soon.”

Ending his interview with a message to all Britons in Spain following the last year’s lengthy process over licences, he said: “I really hope people are now able to be free to enjoy their lives in Spain.”

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