1.The UK-Spain Agreement on Participation in Certain Elections (‘the Agreement’) was laid on 15 March 2019, and the scrutiny period is scheduled to end on 30 April. It was considered by the EU Justice Sub-Committee at its meeting on 26 March.
2.Unlike many of the agreements we have considered, this Agreement does not ‘roll over’ a prior EU international agreement. Instead, it seeks to secure by means of a bilateral agreement certain voting rights currently enjoyed by UK and Spanish citizens under EU law. The Agreement would entitle British nationals in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK to continue to stand and vote in local elections after Brexit.
3. Although the Agreement will only enter into force after domestic ratification processes have been completed, it contains transitional provisions with respect to municipal elections in Spain scheduled for May 2019 and allows for provisional application from the date that the UK leaves the European Union. The preamble to the Agreement indicates that the tenure of those individuals who have already been elected in local elections would not be interrupted. The preamble also makes clear that, in the UK context, the term ‘local elections’ extends to local government elections, mayoral elections and combined authority mayoral elections. As EU nationals, Spanish nationals are already entitled under existing legislation to vote in local elections in the UK and so no legislation is currently required to implement the UK’s obligations under the Agreement.
4.The Explanatory Memorandum (EM) accompanying the Agreement notes that although the agreement is broadly reciprocal, UK law requires EU nationals to be “habitually resident” to vote and stand in local elections, whereas Spain requires a minimum legal and uninterrupted residency, which for the purposes of the Agreement is set at three years. Gibraltar and the British Overseas Territories do not fall within the scope of the Agreement.
5.We note that the Government’s EM indicates that it is seeking to agree similar bilateral deals with other EU Member States to secure reciprocal voting rights. We agree with the Government that this Agreement should set a precedent for reaching similar agreements with our EU neighbours. We also note the announcement by the Government on 21 January that:
“To provide certainty while we pursue these agreements, we do not anticipate making any changes to the current primary legislative framework for candidacy and voting rights of EU citizens living in the UK in the immediate future.
“It is our intent that all eligible EU citizens living in the UK will be able to vote in local elections in England and Northern Ireland this May. Those who are nominated and elected at or before these local elections will also be permitted to serve their full term in office.”
6.We report the UK-Spain Agreement on Participation in Certain Elections for information.
1 Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Spain on the Participation in Certain Elections of Nationals of Each Country Resident in the Territory of the Other, CP 71, 2019: [accessed 26 March 2019]
2 This date has been adjusted to take account of the recent announcement that both Houses will sit from 8–11 April. It will change if further sitting days are scheduled.
3 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union , (26 October 2012) pp 47–390, Article 22 and Council Directive 94/80/EC of 19 December 1994 laying down detailed arrangements for the exercise of the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections by citizens of the Union residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals , (31 December 1994) pp 38–47
4 In relation to Spain, the Agreement refers to “municipal elections” rather than local elections. The term municipal election does not include elections of assemblies in the territories endowed with a Statute of Autonomy (sometimes referred to as ‘regional assemblies’), as is made clear in the Preamble to the Agreement.
5 UK-Spain Agreement on Participation in Certain Elections, Article 7
6 Ibid., Article 8
7 In the UK, all EU nationals are currently eligible to vote and stand not only in local elections, but also elections to the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. The Agreement only covers local elections, as the franchise for elections to the devolved legislatures is a devolved matter. Scotland and Wales have indicated they will retain EU citizens’ eligibility to vote and stand in such elections, and the Scottish Government is planning to extend these rights to all those resident in Scotland regardless of nationality.
8 Representation of the People Act 1983, and as amended
9 Department for Exiting the European Union, ‘Expat voting rights treaty secured with Spain’ (21 January 2019): [accessed 26 March 2019]