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BREXIT

‘Citizens are our top priority in Brexit negotiations’: Open letter from British ambassador to Spain Simon Manley

In this open letter to British residents in Spain, Ambassador Simon Manley writes about citizens’ rights in the negotiations on our departure from and future partnership with the EU.

'Citizens are our top priority in Brexit negotiations': Open letter from British ambassador to Spain Simon Manley
Simon Manley, the UK's Ambassador to Spain. Photo: UK in Spain/Flickr

Given the success of the Spanish State Visit to the UK the week before last, which, among other things, highlighted the importance of people to people links between our two countries, I thought it timely to return to the subject of citizens' rights in the negotiations on our departure from and future partnership with the EU.  

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In the year since the EU referendum, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you across the country, from the Balearics to the Canaries, along the Costas and in Madrid, and our consular teams have met many more. 

I know from those conversations that there has been uncertainty for many of you. My teams and I have listened to your concerns about the future, including about your residency status in Spain, the level of your UK pensions, and your access to Spanish health and other social services, and have noted the questions you have about tax, inheritance, right to work and the implications of applying for Spanish nationality. 

At our meetings, on our social media and in interviews, I have also pledged to keep you up to date as negotiations on our exit from the European Union continue. So, let me update you on where matters stand now, in light of the latest negotiation round in Brussels last week.

The UK Government has been clear that citizens are our top priority in the exit negotiations. We want an agreement that provides citizens with greater certainty about their future. 

Last week, we held constructive and substantive discussions with the European Commission on the bulk of the issues underpinning our respective positions on citizens’ rights.  Together we have taken a big step forward. There is a much clearer understanding on the detail of the positions on both sides and significant convergence on the key issues that really matter to citizens. You can read this technical note which compares the UK and EU positions on these issues here. It is clear both sides want to move towards an agreement.

As you know, on 26 June, the Prime Minister outlined to Parliament an offer to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. We are entering the negotiations with the European Commission and the other 27 EU Member States constructively and we therefore hope that the EU27 will offer reciprocal treatment for British nationals resident in the other Member States.

Many of you will have seen press reports of our 26 June offer, whether in the UK or Spanish media. I hope you will also have read the detailed proposals which are set out in “Safeguarding the position of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU” () and I would encourage you to sign-up for email alerts (you can do so on the Home Office page) to receive updates, to ensure that you are receiving information and guidance from official sources.

READ MORE: UK makes pension and healthcare pledge to expats post-Brexit

The first key element of the new proposal is residence status and working rights. Until the UK’s exit, EU citizens in the UK will continue to enjoy all the rights they currently have under EU law; they can continue to live and work in the UK just as they do now.  

The same rights also apply to you, British residents in Spain.  You can continue to live and work here in Spain as you always have done.  After the UK’s exit from the EU, we are proposing a reciprocal deal that would protect the right of UK nationalsalready in the EU to continue to live and work in the EU.  We hope that the European Commission and the 27 other Member States will agree to this.

The second key element is healthcare, pensions, education and access to benefits. It is our intention to treat EU citizens with settled status in the UK in the same way as if they were UK citizens for the purposes of access to education, benefits and pensions. 

For you, the Government has announced that the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU, issues which I know from my conversations over the last year were important to many of you. 

At the moment, those of you who are UK pensioners and resident in Spain access healthcare through the S1 form.  This means the UK reimburses Spain the cost of providing medical treatment.  After the UK leaves the EU, we want to continue your healthcare entitlements on the same basis. Healthcare in Spain was indeed one of the case studies cited in the detailed proposals made by the British Government on 26 June.

Subject to negotiations, we want to continue participating in the European Health Insurance Card scheme meaning EHIC holders continue to benefit from free, or reduced-cost, needs-arising healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU — and vice versa for EU EHIC holders visiting the UK. We hope the European Commission will agree to this. 

The British Government has repeatedly said that, until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force.  You can continue travelling throughout the EU on your UK passport, without any visa requirements.  You can continue to access Spanish healthcare and draw your UK pension.  If you have any difficulties accessing those rights, do please let our Consulates know 

I will continue to engage with you and listen to you, as will my consular teams across Spain.

In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter (@SimonManleyFCO) and access the Embassy’s social media (@UKinSpain on Twitter; British Embassy Madrid and Brits in Spain on Facebook) to keep up to date with developments.

The British Ambassador to Madrid with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in March. Photo: AFP

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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