Adventures in Brexitland: How a bid for Spanish nationality turned in a Kafka-esque nightmare

AS AN adminphobe, my main beef with Brexit was the paperwork that would ensue; I had an inkling it would be a ballbuster.

For three years at least, I prayed the whole nightmare would go away. The referendum vote would be overturned or Brexit would exist in name only. When I finally pulled my head out of the sand, it was to confront the worst deal short of no deal.

I changed my UK driving license and Spanish residence permit relatively painlessly towards the end of 2020 in the thick of Covid. Then came the hardest nut to crack: acquiring Spanish nationality for my oldest daughter, Janie, to allow her access to an EU university outside of Spain on manageable fees.

Though born and brought up in Madrid, Janie is a UK citizen and was awarded a student loan for a three-year ballet course in London. Unfortunately, injuries to her feet and a dislocated knee prevent her pursuing a career in dance, but she is not entitled to a further loan in the UK.

We hold our breath and take the plunge. Spanish nationality has to be got. How hard can it be? Having triumphed with the other paperwork, I am tentatively optimistic. But that is only because I have yet to become acquainted with the mossback that is the Ministry of Justice.

I hand the necessary documents over to my nearest civil registry which happens to be the local town hall. Time is of the essence but the first appointment is November 11, 2020. I say I am worried that Janie’s UK passport will be close to its expiry date by then, but am told it will be no problem as long as it is valid when submitted.

I go home with the receipt and the sense of a job well done.

The months pass and no word. In May, 2021, I decide to investigate online and am asked for a number I don’t have. An R number. I scour the receipt then I phone the Ministry of Justice. Finally I get through to a woman whose customer service skills were acquired in the Franco era.

“You can’t know the status of your application without the R number,” she barks.

I say I don’t have one.

“Well, I can’t do anything without it.”

I go back to the receipt and search again to no avail. I call the ministry again.

“How do I get the R number?” I ask the woman on the other end of the line when I finally get through.

To my surprise, she reels it off. Aha, I say, feeling as though I have been thrown a bone.

I enter the R number online and Janie’s file comes up. Missing a paper, it says, with no further clues.

I get back on the phone and provide the R number and Janie’s details to the gentleman on the other end.

“You’re missing a paper,” he tells me.

“I know. Which one?”

“I can’t say.”

“Why not?”

“Look Mrs, it says a paper is missing. That’s all.”

“So, how do I find out?”

“Listen! Listen to me! You have to go to your daughter’s citizen’s file.”

I call off. My head is about to explode. Vital weeks are passing. Every phone call is a morning’s work.

We go through the laborious process of getting Janie a Clave Pin and finally get into her citizen’s file. The missing paper is the passport, but it is now too late to submit it as we have missed the three-month window. This, it says, will result in the application being annulled.

Heather Galloway and daughter Janie
Heather Galloway and daughter Janie.

Okay, I think. Calm down. Never mind. We will start afresh. I get the papers together again and hand them over to the local registry with copies of a passport with 10 years on it. I get my receipt and go home.

In September, almost a year after the first application, I phone the Ministry to get the R number for the new application. A woman answers. She says no application for 2021 has been registered but the first application is still active and missing a paper.

“But it said that application would be annulled if I didn’t provide the missing paper in time, which I didn’t,” I say through gritted teeth.

“If you don’t annul the first application,” she shoots back, “both applications will be annulled.”

“How do I do that?”

“Write a letter.”

“To who?”

“The department of nationality.”

I write a letter. Dear Madam/ Sir. To whom it may concern. And send it by registered post. I might as well have written to Santa Claus.

A few weeks pass. Janie’s citizen’s file is now empty. There is no word of a missing paper anymore. No word of anything. But the ministry still says she’s missing a paper. I decide to send a copy of her passport on the off chance, linked to the ghost application.

Now the submission of the passport registers in the citizen’s file but the application continues to say it is missing a paper.

My daughter goes down in person to plead and beg for answers.

“What do you expect me to do?” the woman deadpans from the other side of the desk.

Janie doesn’t know. “Isn’t there a number I can ring?”

“No,” says the woman, categorically not. Nor can the woman be expected to get in touch with the department of nationality, which is buried somewhere in the same building.

“Doesn’t the department have a phone?” Janie cries.

“Write them a letter,” she says.

She gives Janie two sheets of paper so she can make two handwritten copies, as though the photocopier or scanner were too futuristic to be at home in this environment.

Fighting an urge to sob, Janie writes two identical letters, hands over one and leaves.

Janie Emerging Despondent From Meeting At Ministry Of Justice 1
Janie leaving the Ministry of Justice.

A month later, no news. Janie’s future is uncertain. The adventure has been so ludicrous as to verge on exhilarating. We hate the Ministry of Justice but most of all we hate Brexit for forcing us to deal with it. We hear that Brexit might also be responsible for the empty shelves in the UK, for the lack of lorry drivers and queues at petrol pumps. To cap it all, there is a suggestion from Brexit mastermind Dominic Cummings that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson never entirely grasped the implications of the withdrawal agreement that he hammered out.

I think of my daughter, who at 21, cannot now study or work in another EU country aside from Spain. I think of all the youngsters Janie’s age whose horizons have shrunk. It strikes me that the pro-Brexit contingent were perhaps too arrogant to consider that by restricting the movement of people coming into the UK they were also curbing their children and grandchildren’s opportunities. The world is no longer anyone’s oyster except, of course, for the likes of Boris Johnson – “the trolley” as Cummings calls him, who has pockets deep enough to sidestep all the red tape.


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