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BREXIT

Pensions and healthcare: UK offers assurances to Brits in EU over no-deal Brexit

The British government spelled out on Thursday what it would do to protect the rights of British citizens living in the EU in the event that the UK crashed out of the union without a deal, including those who were forced to return home.

Pensions and healthcare: UK offers assurances to Brits in EU over no-deal Brexit
Photo: AFP

The policy paper spells out some of the measures that would be taken to protect the citizens' rights of EU nationals living in Britain and those of Britons living throughout the EU if there was a no-deal Brexit.

However the government insists that the only way the rights of Britons can really be protected is if the deal is ratified.

“The Withdrawal Agreement is the only way the UK government can guarantee the rights of the one million UK nationals living in the EU,” says the document.

The British government has called on EU member states to uphold their commitments to protect the rights of Britons living in their countries, whom they want to be able to stay and enjoy the same rights and protections as when Britain was part of the EU.

But the government accepts that depends on London acting first.

“That is why the UK has taken steps to remove any ambiguity and provide complete reassurance for EU citizens in the UK. We ask that the EU and Member States do the same for our nationals,” reads the policy paper.

“We have always been clear that we highly value the contributions EU citizens make to the social, economic and cultural fabric of the UK and that we want them to stay in the UK.

“To remove any ambiguity, the UK Government guarantees that EU citizens resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and we will take the necessary steps to protect their rights even in a unlikely ‘no deal’ scenario.”

This should be positive news for Britons living in the EU. For example the French government has stated it will protect the rights of Britons in France based on what is in the withdrawal agreement, but only if London acted and gave guarantees to French nationals in London.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Reman in Farnce Together Campaign groups told The Local: “We very much hope that this confirmation that the UK intends to effectively honour the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement if there's no deal will be enough for France to go ahead and do the same.”

Pensions and healthcare

The paper contains some pledges that will be important to Britons living throughout the EU, notably those who are retired.

“Where it is in our control, the UK will also continue to preserve certain rights of UK nationals in the EU, for example by continuing to pay an uprated UK state pension to eligible UK nationals living in the EU.”

And if British nationals found they could no longer continue their lives in the EU and were forced to return home then the government said it would “consider” rather than guarantee certain measures.

On the subject of health and voting the government said: “We understand that access to healthcare is vital and can confirm that UK nationals who returned to the UK permanently in a ‘no deal’ scenario would have access to NHS-funded healthcare on the same basis as UK nationals already living here. They would also be able to register to vote in local and national elections.

And on the issue of returning with family members who are not British nationals:

“We understand the right to bring EU and non-EU citizen family members is an important concern. The Government is considering the support that could be offered and will set out further details in due course,” reads the paper.

And if people have to return to the UK?

And when it comes to accessing vital benefits and housing, the government says it is considering how best to act to support returning UK nationals.

“We recognise that an issue raised by UK nationals is their ability to access to benefits and housing quickly on return to the UK. Arrangements will be made to ensure continuity of payments for those who return and are already in receipt of UK state pension or other UK benefits while living in the EU.

“We are considering how support could be offered to returning UK nationals where new claims are made and will set out further details in due course. UK nationals will continue to be able to access education in the UK,” the paper says. 

British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “A lot of people have asked us what would happen if they felt they had to return to the UK after Brexit. So it's reassuring to read that the UK would ensure immediate access to health care and benefits, as that's been a huge concern.”

Reciprocal agreements need to be made

But the British government accepts that in the case of no deal, much depends on reciprocal agreements so no matter what London offers to EU citizens, Brits in the EU still need their adopted countries to agree to put the same measures in place especially when it comes to healthcare and benefits.

“Aspects of the reciprocal healthcare and social security coordination section of the Withdrawal Agreement require reciprocity from the EU or individual Member States and cannot be protected unilaterally,” the document said.

“We are exploring options to protect past social security contributions, made in the EU and the UK, and reciprocal healthcare arrangements in the unlikely event of a 'no deal' scenario. We are in the early stages of discussions and will announce further details of such options prior to our exit to allow citizens to make appropriate arrangements.”

Meadows said: “This should reassure a lot of British pensioners living in France as well as those who've worked both in France and the UK and whose contributions would be aggregated.”

The UK wants is citizens to be able to carry on standing and voting in local elections in the countries where they live and so says it will guarantee that EU nationals will be able to vote in local elections in the UK.

One line in the policy paper that did anger campaigners was the government's claim that they have “engaged extensively with UK nationals in the EU over the last two years.”

British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “Although we have met with officials at Department for Exiting the EU, we at British in Europe have been trying continuously to meet with the Secretary of State for that department and have never had been invited to do so.

“We've also requested meetings with Theresa May on several occasions and our requests have simply not been acted on. We would very much like to have had the opportunity to present the concerns of the 1.2 million Brits in the EU to both of these directly – and indeed we still would.”

You can read the full policy paper by clicking here.

 

 

Member comments

  1. No deal is the default position, and the only one with Royal Assent. What is bad is that Theresa May has not made proper provision for it and wasted over 30 months chasing pie-in-the-sky ‘deals’ of her own design, to suit Brussels and against the wishes of the UK voters. If she fails to convince Parliament of her unrealistic wishes, the UK will leave the EU in March 2019 poorly prepared.

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BREXIT

What is the latest on Gibraltar’s Brexit status?

With 2023 approaching and negotiations between Gibraltar, the UK, EU and Spain dragging on for yet another year, what is the latest on Gibraltar and Brexit? Will they reach a deal before New Year and how could it affect life in Gibraltar and Spain?

What is the latest on Gibraltar's Brexit status?

As British politics tries to move on from Brexit, the tiny British territory at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar, has been stuck in political limbo since the referendum all the way back in 2016.

Gibraltar, which voted in favour of Remain during the referendum by a whopping 96 percent, was not included in the Brexit deal and has instead relied on a framework agreement made between the UK and Spain on New Year’s Eve in 2020.

After that framework was laid out, it was hoped that the various parties – that is, the Gibraltarian government, Spain, the EU, and the UK – would build on it and quickly find a wider treaty agreement establishing Gibraltar’s place on the European mainland in the post-Brexit world.

It was thought that Gibraltar could enter into a common travel area with the Schengen zone, limiting border controls and essentially creating a custom-made customs arrangement with the EU.

But since then, the negotiation process has stopped and started, with no deal being made and uncertainty dragging on through 2021.

Despite all parties still being relatively optimistic in the spring of 2022, no resolution has been found and 2023 is approaching.

Relying on the framework agreement alone, uncertainty about what exactly the rules are and how they should be implemented have caused confusion and long delays on the border.

The roadblocks

Progress in the multi-faceted negotiations to bash out a treaty and determine Gibraltar’s place in the post-Brexit world have repeatedly stumbled over the same roadblocks.

The main one is the issue of the border. Known in Spain and Gibraltar as La Línea – meaning ‘the line’ in reference to the Spanish town directly across the border, La Línea de la Concepción – the subject of the border and who exactly will patrol it (and on which side) has been a constant sticking point in negotiations.

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in late November 2022. There has been no immediate response from London.

The Gibraltarians refuse to accept Spanish boots on the ground and would prefer the European-wide Frontex border force. The British government feel this would be an impingement on British sovereignty. There’s also been the persistent issues of VAT and corporation tax considerations, as well as the British Navy base and how to police the waters around it.

Though there had been reports that the ongoing British driving license in Spain fiasco had been one of the reasons negotiations had stalled, the British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliot categorically denied any connection between the issue of Gibraltar’s Brexit deal and British driving licence recognition earlier in November.

READ ALSO: CONFIRMED: Deal on UK licences in Spain agreed but still no exchange date

On different pages?

Not only do the long-standing sticking points remain, but it also seems that the various negotiating parties are on slightly different pages with regards to how exactly each seems to think the negotiations are going.

Judging by reports in the Spanish press in recent weeks, it appears that many in Spain may believe the negotiations are wrapping up and a conclusion could be found by New Year. This perception comes largely from comments made by Pascual Navarro, Spain’s State Secretary to the EU. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Navarro claimed that negotiations have advanced so well that they were now only working ‘on the commas’ of the text – that is to say, tidying it up.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”. (Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

“No issue that is blocked,” he said. “All of the text is on the table.” A full treaty, he suggested, could be signed “before the end of the year.”

Yet it seems the Gibraltarians don’t quite see the progress as positively as their neighbours. Last week the Gibraltar government, known as No.6, acknowledged Navarro’s optimism.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo however, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”.

No.6 remains positive and hopes for a deal, but in recent weeks has also published technical contingency plans for businesses to prepare for what they are calling a ‘Non-Negotiated Outcome’ – effectively a ‘no-deal’ in normal Brexit jargon.

The UK, however, seem to be somewhere in the middle. Like Navarro, the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently suggested at a House of Commons select committee that only “a relatively small number” of issues remain to be resolved.

However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a non-negotiated outcome. “I think it’s legitimate to look at that [planning for a non-negotiated outcome] as part of our thinking,” Mr Cleverly said. “But obviously we are trying to avoid an NNO.”

Election year

If no deal is found by New Year, that would mean that negotiations drag into 2023 – election years for both Picardo and Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister.

Gibraltar is expected to have elections sometime in the second-half of the year, and Sánchez has to call an election by the end of 2023.

In many ways, Spanish domestic politics has the potential to play a far greater role in Gibraltar’s fate than British politics. In fact, the shadow of Spanish politics looms over these negotiations and the future relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, and the UK and EU.

If Sánchez’s PSOE were to lose the election, which according to the latest polling data is the most probable outcome, then it would be likely that Spain’s centre-right party PP would seek to renegotiate, if not outright reject, any deal made.

READ ALSO: Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

If PP are unable to secure a ruling majority, however, they may well be forced to rely on the far-right party Vox, who have often used nationalist anti-Gibraltar rhetoric as a political weapon. If Vox were to enter into government, which is unlikely but a possibility, it’s safe to say any agreement – if one is even reached before then – would be torn up and the Spanish government would take a much harder line in negotiations.

As the consequences of Brexit churn on in Britain, in Gibraltar uncertainty looms.

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