British expats in Spain tell Brexit committee ‘You must act now to protect us’

British nationals living in Spain and other European countries have urged UK Prime Minister Theresa May to make a speedy and "magnanimous gesture" to help secure their futures.

British expats in Spain tell Brexit committee 'You must act now to protect us'
The UK parliamentary select committee invited British expats to give evidence. Photo: AFP

A group of British nationals, including Sue Wilson, from Bremain in Spain, which campaigns for the rights of British people in Spain, told a parliamentary select committee in Westminster that the UK should make the first move when it comes to the increasingly thorny issue of the rights of EU citizens in Britain and those of Brits living around Europe.

In her landmark Brexit speech on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted she was reluctant to guarantee the rights of Spanish, French and other EU nationals living in the UK, until she was given similar guarantees about Brits living in Spain and France.

In other words the five million people affected – two million Brits and three million EU nationals living in the UK – are being used as a pawn in negotiations, that will only begin once the British government triggers the famous Article 50.

Sue Wilson and Christopher Chantrey, who is head of the British Community Committee of France,  told the parliament select committee, led by Labour MP Hilary Benn, that Theresa May must make the first move.

“We want something to be done immediately,” said Chantrey. “It is the UK triggering this process. It would be a magnanimous gesture and a good way to open the negotiations, by saying ‘this is what we are going to do for EU nationals in the UK’.

Sue Wilson added: “People are suffering now and people have been suffering since [the referendum on] June 23rd because of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen in the future.

“Whatever needs to be decided needs to be decided soon because these people can’t wait two and half years for the solution,” said Wilson.

“Theresa May needs to act now and that would encourage other countries to reciprocate and would improve relations at the start of negotiations,” she said.

She told the 'Exiting the European Union Committee' that Brits abroad were still British citizens and should be looked after as such by the British government. 

Their wish was echoed by Frenchman Nicolas Hatton head of the group “3million” which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

“We want the British government to make the first move, because it’s the UK which is leaving the EU and not the other way round,” said Hatton.

The select committee also heard about the real concerns and worries that have blighted Brits living in the EU since the referendum result, namely around healthcare, future pensions and the right to remain in the countries where they have made their home.

“Pensioners are already suffering from the falling exchange rates. They are worried about what will happen to their pensions and their healthcare cover,” said Valencia-based Wilson, who moved to Alcocebre with her husband a decade ago.

“We need to get away from this perception that expats in Spain are all on holiday and have a good income and good standard of living. Many people are struggling financially.

Where will Brexit negotitations lead us? Photo: F Govan

“They are concerned about whether they can stay in the country or whether they will be forced to come back to the UK.”

Wilson explained that the primary concerns for those Brits who had moved to Spain would be the impact that Brexit would have on their pensions and their right to free healthcare.

“There are quite a few working Brits in Spain (and Europe) who spend time working in the UK, also obviously pensioners who get paid in pounds, so anyone who gets paid in sterling is suffering already because of the drop in exchange rate and people are very concerned about the value of their income going down in the future,” she told the committee.

“The big concern is for people wondering whether they will have free healthcare in the future. It is very expensive to buy private healthcare in Spain, particularly for the elderly or those who have a pre-existing condition. That could make the difference to whether people are able to stay in Spain or have to return to England,” she said.

“Many people have moved to Spain particularly for their health because they suffer from rheumatism or arthritis so do better in a warmer climate…so beyond any financial considerations… returning to the UK could have an impact on their life expectancy,”

Chantrey warned the committee that there would be a significant impact on the UK if tens of thousands of British pensioners living throughout the EU were forced to return “homeless, without health cover and with diminishing pensions.”

Find out more about Bremain in Spain from  their website or follow @BremainInSpain on Twitter or join their Facebook page.

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Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will not extend its reciprocal healthcare agreements with Gibraltar, meaning that from July 1st 2022, it will come to an end.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

When the UK left the EU on December 31st 2020, both sides agreed that the UK’s EHIC European healthcare cards could still be used until their expiry dates.

This card provided British travellers with free state-provided medical care in the EU in case of emergencies.

Beyond their five year period of validity, EHIC cards are no longer valid and travellers have to apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. 

Spain made a separate agreement with Gibraltar under its Royal Brexit Decree in which unilateral arrangements would be maintained in the territory and extended until June 30th 2022.

During the meeting of the Spanish Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the Spanish Government decided not to extend the agreement further, meaning that residents of Gibraltar will no longer be able to benefit from it.

In a statement the government of Gibraltar said: “It would have been HMGoG’s preference for these arrangements, which deeply affect citizens on either side of the border on matters as essential as healthcare, to have been maintained. Indeed, HMGoG was prepared to continue with them”.

“However, because reciprocity is a key element to these arrangements which cannot work without coordination and provisions for reimbursement of costs etc., HMGoG is left with no option but to discontinue them also in so far as treatment in Gibraltar is concerned,” it continued. 

What does this mean?

Gibraltar residents insured under Gibraltar’s Group Practice Medical Scheme will, after 30th June 2022, no longer be able to access free emergency healthcare in Spain during a temporary stay in the country. 

Those who are residents in Spain who travel over to Gibraltar will not have access to free healthcare on The Rock either. 

As a consequence, if a resident of Gibraltar falls ill or has an accident while over the border in Spain or the same for a Spanish resident in Gibraltar, they will have to pay for healthcare.

The government of Gibraltar is encouraging its citizens from July 1st 2022 to have appropriate travel insurance with medical cover each time they visit Spain.

This means that even those who are hopping over the border for few hours such as for a shopping trip or going out for dinner will have to make sure that they have adequate health insurance. 

“Where medical attention is required the costs incurred may be considerable, so you should ensure you have adequate insurance cover or alternatively the means to pay,” the Gibraltar government said in their statement.