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Spain: Brexit Britain must pay for expats’ healthcare

Britain will have to reach a deal to pay for the healthcare of its citizens in Spain once the country leaves the EU, Spain’s foreign minister has said.

Spain: Brexit Britain must pay for expats' healthcare
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson (r) can expect a rough ride from his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo (l). Photo: Thierry Charlier/AFP
Speaking at a conference in Alicante, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Spain would try to reach a deal for the UK to pay for the healthcare of the estimated 800,000 Brits living in the country. 
 
“We must reach an agreement for residents to access health services in Spain, but covered by the United Kingdom” he told the conference held by accountancy firm PWC, according to Spanish news site Estrella Digital.
 
Describing Britain’s historic Euroscepticism as “regressive”, Garcia-Margallo also said the most likely outcome for Britain was a deal with the EU similar to the CETA trade agreement with Canada, European policy website Euractiv reported. He also said that the remaining 27 countries should use Brexit as an opportunity to advance closer political union.
 
At present, British citizens can use Spanish health services on the same basis as Spaniards. Britons working in Spain and paying into the social insurance system have the cost covered by Spain, but many others such as pensioners have the costs reimbursed by Britain under EU agreements. The cost of this to Britain was £223 million in 2014-15.
 
In a statement on Tuesday, the British Embassy in Madrid said: “The negotiations to leave the EU are about to begin and it is too soon to say what the outcome will be on this issue. At every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.”
 
Spain is expected to use Gibraltar’s status as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotitations, in which Britain is prioritising a reduction in migration from EU countries.
 
Following Britain’s June vote to leave, Garcia-Margallo called for negotiations on co-sovereignty over the Rock to begin. The British territory voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.
 
British voters in Spain were also broadly supportive of continued UK membership of the EU, and the result has left many concerned for the future. In the wake of the referendum a surge has been reported in the number of Brits taking Spanish citizenship classes. Over 18,000 people have signed a petition to demand that Spain allows dual citizenship to those Brits that have been resident for over ten years.
 
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March, starting the two year negotiation period between Britain and the other 27 EU countries. At the end of this period Britain would automatically leave the EU, whether or not a deal has been reached.
 

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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