Brexit – Legal Implications

14 January 2020

British expats must formalise their legal status.

On 31 January 2020 the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. Although the UK and the EU have agreed a Brexit deal in principle, they still need to ratify the withdrawal agreement before the due date. Once ratified, the UK will then enter into a transition period ending on 31 December 2020. During this period, the UK will remain in the EU’s customs union and single market but they will not have voting rights in the EU institutions.

The transition period is the final opportunity for those British nationals living in Spain to formalise their legal status in order to benefit from EU citizens’ status. This includes getting a residence card, “empadronamiento” (Town Hall’s census), exchange of driving license, etc. Due to the high number of new applications Spain has hired more than 2,000 professionals which has shortened the application process.

A further extension of the transition period is not expected as the new elected British government is highly against dragging out the process any longer. The legal status for those who arrive after the transition period remains unknown, as it depends on the final deal agreement between the UK and the EU, which would have to be signed before the end of the transition period.

Although unlikely, the UK could still leave without a deal if the withdrawal agreement is not approved by 31 January 2020. In the worst-case scenario, Spain, in order to avoid leaving British nationals residing in Spain and Spanish nationals residing in the UK unprotected and exposed, enacted the Royal Decree-Law 5/2019, which will only apply if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. This legislation consists of a series of contingency measures that aim to ease the impact of a hard Brexit to both British and Spanish nationals in areas as residence, professions, social security, health-care, etc.

However, is must be noted that these measures are temporary and designed to facilitate the transition of the UK from a state member of the EU to a third state. Therefore, the measures will cease to be applied in the event of an agreement that permanently regulate relations with the UK in the areas covered by the Royal Decree Law.

As for residence, the Royal Decree-Law, aiming to avoid a situation of sudden irregularity for British citizens and their families, establishes an ad hoc regimen for obtaining the documentation concerning their new status that must be completed within 21 months from the date of Brexit.

Regarding professions, any British-citizen that is pursuing on a permanent basis a profession for which they had obtained recognition of their qualifications may continue to do it so under the same terms.

The measures regarding social security shall apply during a period of 21 months from the date of Brexit. Among others, any British-citizen that is subject to social security shall have the same rights and obligations as Spanish nationals.

As for health-care, same 21-month period applies. During this, Spain will continue providing health-care to anyone entitle to health-care in the UK.

Lastly, the full applicability of the measures is subject to reciprocal treatment by the UK authorities to Spanish citizens that shall be verified. Thus, some of the measures regulated will cease to be applied by the Government after a minimum period of two months if British authorities do not provide an equivalent treatment to Spanish citizens residing in the UK in the covered areas.


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