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BREXIT

‘A massive betrayal’: UK’s no-deal Brexit healthcare pledge for pensioners in EU sparks anger

Campaigners for British people living in the EU accused the UK government of a massive betrayal on Monday after it was announced the health costs of pensioners would only be covered for six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

'A massive betrayal': UK's no-deal Brexit healthcare pledge for pensioners in EU sparks anger
Photo: AFP

Britain's health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that health costs for UK pensioners living in the EU and those with disabilities would be covered for six months if Britain leaves the bloc on October 31st without a deal.

That would see 180,000 UK citizens living in the EU, continue to have their healthcare paid for by the UK under the S1 scheme for six months after Brexit. 

That's six months less than a UK government pledge made in March to cover healthcare costs for on year in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Tourists who begin their trips to the EU before Brexit and students who begin their courses before October will also have their health costs covered under a no-deal Brexit.

But while health secretary Hancock claimed the announced showed that “protecting the healthcare rights of UK nationals is a priority of this Government” it prompted much anger among campaigners and an accusation of betrayal.

'A massive betrayal of British people in Europe'

“This is yet more smoke and mirrors from the UK government and another massive let-down for UK pensioners in the EU 27,” said Jeremy Morgan, the vice-chair of British in Europe.

“Having paid UK taxes and contributions all their working lives, when they moved to their host country, they had the right and expectation to NHS-funded medical treatment for life.  This was a key factor in the decision of many when moving.

“Now the only guarantee they have is for six more months, or up to a year if they have already started treatment.  Just think what that means to someone who already needs life-long treatment, or a pensioner who gets a cancer diagnosis a month after Brexit.”

Kalba Meadows from the France Rights campaign group said: “In just a few minutes since this news was published we've seen an outcry of anger among Brits in France – and with good reason.

“It's a massive betrayal of British people in Europe. All the promises that we were a priority and that we would be 'able to live our lives as before' have turned into an illusion”.

British pensioners living throughout Europe have been warned however that they must take action to register for healthcare in their member states or they faced being ineligible for the six months cover. Letters will be sent out to 180,000 citizens urging them to act.

“To be eligible for this support, people must apply within local timeframes or no later than six months after we leave, whichever is the shortest,” read the government statement.

But British in Europe's Morgan said: “The Government is urging them to “act now to secure access to healthcare” as if it were as simple as ordering coffee in a restaurant.

“People won’t get private health insurance if they have existing conditions, and in those countries where it is possible to join a national scheme the cost is simply unaffordable for someone living on the state pension worth 20 percent less in euros as a result of Brexit.”

The British government has said that it has proposed to each EU member state that healthcare costs for those on the S1 scheme be covered until December 2020, but that if countries do not agree on this date by October 31st then the cover will only last six months.

Confusion

As well as anger the announcement on Monday has provoked much confusion, especially in France, where the government has already passed a law that pledges to cover the healthcare costs of British pensioners for two years. Although the French decree depends on reciprocity with the UK.

“We don't know whether France is likely to reduce its two years health care cover in the light of the UK statement,” said Kalba Meadows from the France Rights campaign group.

“We don't know exactly what S1 holders in France will be required to do – will they have to make an application to join PUMa, and if so when? Or will the switch, if and when there is one, happen automatically?” she added.

“In other words, we don't know very much at all,” she said.

“I've been through a huge roller coaster of emotions over the last three years but this has upset me and made me more angry than anything else because it's targeting the most vulnerable who are already terrified,” she added.

Member comments

  1. The British people voted to leave the EU and they also chose not to switch to the euro. The EU doesn’t have to accept any deal from England. Why are people afraid of Boris? He is just enforcing what was voted for.

  2. Maybe but don’t forget that the people voted to leave the EU based on a stream of lies being broadcast by who ? Yes, Boris Johnson. It need not be said that the expatriates living in Europe were not allowed to vote in the refrendum. Teresa May promised that we would be given the vote once she was elected but once again an unfulfilled promise. Finally why should we have to pay 119 euros for a ‘permis de séjour’ when all European nationals resident in the U.K get theirs for free ? Reciprocity !!!

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BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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