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.