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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: ‘Just when Brits in Spain thought we could relax the next spanner is thrown in the works’

Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain takes a look at the latest developments in Westminster and how it has sent shock waves through the British community in Spain.

OPINION: 'Just when Brits in Spain thought we could relax the next spanner is thrown in the works'
Photo: AFP

There have been many days since the Brexit referendum when I’ve felt like I was doing a dance, with unfamiliar steps.

One day, it was the Brexit Hokey Cokey – in, out, shake it all about. The next, it was the Withdrawal Agreement two-step – one step forward, two steps back, spin around till you’re dizzy and confused.

Anyone worried about their rights after Brexit will be familiar with those feelings of confusion, fear, anxiety and exasperation.

It seems that, as soon as we start to believe that our rights are secured, the actions of the British government throw everything out of the window.

During a week when we hoped for some progress in the Brexit negotiations, the UK government dropped a bombshell in the shape of the Internal Market Bill. Long story short, the government is unhappy with the contents of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and is aiming to break its international treaty commitments. Not to worry though – it will do so in a “specific and limited way”.

Despite insisting that the WA was an excellent deal, requiring little or no scrutiny from parliament, the government has now read the small print. It seems that many Conservative MPs only voted for the deal on the understanding that they could unravel it later. This is exactly what the government is trying to do now. Having signed the deal and winning an election on the back of it, the prime minister is reneging on his international treaty commitments.

Unsurprisingly, the EU’s reaction was swift and robust. Following an “extraordinary” meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee, EU Commission Vice President, Maros Sefcovic, said: “The timely and full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland – which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government agreed to, and which the UK Houses of Parliament ratified, less than a year ago – is a legal obligation. The European Union expects the letter and spirit of this agreement to be fully respected.” He went on to say that undermining the international treaty would risk the ongoing negotiations.

The EU also demanded that the UK government withdraw aspects of the bill that override the WA, giving them until the end of September to rectify the situation. Failure will risk termination of the negotiations and the prospect of leaving the EU without a trade deal.

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Photo: AFP

The UK government is continuing to play down its plans, claiming that it merely wants to tie up loose ends. The outrage expressed in Westminster, including from Conservatives in both houses of parliament, would suggest that some politicians see the situation differently.

What this means for Brits in Europe is further uncertainty. Just when we believed we could relax and feel secure, the next spanner has been thrown into the works.

Both the EU and the UK have been keen to reassure British citizens about their situation. In a meeting with the British Embassy on Friday, I was assured, by consular staff, that British and Spanish governments are committed to the WA, and to protecting our citizens’ rights.

Under the terms of the WA, the rights of British citizens in Europe are not the direct responsibility of the British government. The protection of our WA rights, as legal Spanish residents, rests with the Spanish authorities. 

However, the latest UK government plans – to renege on international treaty commitments – have sent shockwaves throughout the British community. Even though the British government is not directly responsible for the protection of our WA rights, the question still arises about the potential ramifications of the UK government’s actions.

If all else fails, the EU would be entitled to suspend its own WA commitments – except the parts relating to citizens’ rights. So, whatever happens, the EU has a legal obligation to protect our rights as British citizens in Spain – an obligation we can trust in its hands.

Spain has also taken its responsibilities to British citizens seriously throughout the Brexit process. Measures were implemented last year – namely the Royal Decree – to ensure that our rights were protected, even with a no deal. I have no doubt that the Spanish authorities would take further steps to protect us, should the need arise.

It remains to be seen whether prime minister, Boris Johnson, will get his own way, and manage to undermine the WA and trade negotiations. If the British government’s idea of “taking back control” is to break the law and renege on its commitments, who will ever trust Johnson again?

We can only hope that the great British “common sense” that Johnson is so fond of will finally prevail. If that fails, we’d better keep practicing those dance steps!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

 

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BREXIT

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.

  

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