As a former British Ambassador to Lithuania, among other posts, David Hunt is no stranger to the European Union. Now, from the British government's Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) in London, he is working with EU member states to ensure that the conditions of the Withdrawal Agreement are being adhered to after Brexit. Last week he heard some of the concerns of residents in Spain, the EU's largest British expat community.
You took on the role of Head of Citizens' Rights in 2019 so you knew you'd be dealing directly with the consequences of Brexit. Has it been as you expected?
I knew it was a challenge, but the architecture has been set: we have the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement) and the Withdrawal Agreement so now I feel quite positive about the future.
Have the problems experienced by Brits in the EU varied from country to country?
Yes, there are differences. My job is to make sure that, by working with member states and the Commission, everyone fulfils their responsibilities as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. It's really clear. Those who were resident before the end of the transition period should be able to live and work and spend their lives largely as they did beforehand.
You've been talking to groups involved in solving UK nationals' problems here.
The expatriate groups talked to me about varied challenges. There are regional variances in terms of applying for the TIE card and access to healthcare, concerns about driving licences - practical issues. The three organisations implementing the UK Nationals Support Fund were also able to talk to me about the cases they've had to deal with. It was good to have the conversations with these groups and then flag them with the Spanish government representatives later.
Did the specific issues put to you include residency application rejections due to the date on health policies in Andalucía?
I heard some cases of people having problems with documents. These are practical issues that we're very interested in hearing about, so all feedback like that is very welcome.When I was in discussion with the Spanish government I brought up regional variances in the outcomes people were getting.
What response did you get from the Spanish authorities?
I've been talking to senior officials within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Migrations and had some very productive talks. They recognised there are challenges, and that across a large country like Spain with a regional devolved system there are variances. We said that we would continue to provide them with examples where we believed problems were happening and they said they would look into them. The key message was that they value the UK national community across Spain and want them to feel welcome and enjoy the rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement.
Did you discuss Covid vaccines with the Spanish authorities and the concern of some British nationals about when they might get them?
The commitment from the Spanish government is that everyone within Spain, regardless of nationality, will be vaccinated. There was a very clear message on that. Those vaccines will happen. That programme will be rolled out.
Is there still a need to get a message across to Brits in Spain with regard to the situation after Brexit?
The most important thing UK nationals can do is to make sure they are registered as a resident so they can access healthcare and all of the other services that they require.