Spain wants British expats to remain but what if no deal is reached?

A Spain leading Brexit negotiator told a British newspaper that Madrid wants U.K. expatriates to stay in the country with their benefits intact, which include access to healthcare but questions remain regarding what will happen after Britain breaks away from the EU.

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“We are broadly in favour of retaining a reciprocal agreement on questions like healthcare and freedom of movement,” Jorge Toledo, Spanish Secretary for the EU, told The Times.

Toledo, who is also Madrid’s head negotiator on Brexit, added: “As regards the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and the rights of U.K. citizens in the EU, Spain is in favour of the amplest respect of these rights in the future but the modalities and conditions will and should be a matter of negotiation.”

Spain and other EU members must follow the lead of Michel Barnier, the European Union’s lead negotiator on Brexit with the United Kingdom, Toledo explained.

Mr Toledo’s comments follow a statement by junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker saying the British Government “hears very clearly the concerns of British expats living all over the EU. It’s one of the reasons we have been really clear on the need to reach a reciprocal deal early in negotiations.”

Mr Walker also said, “We want to ensure we secure a strong deal in this respect. We as a government have heard from the representatives of expats and we want to ensure their interests are protected, just as we want to extend that pledge to EU citizens in the U.K.”

About one million Britons live full time or part time in Spain, making it the biggest British expatriate community in the European Union, according to the Foreign Office.

Of those, 101,997 are aged over 65. Many more are not registered but live in Spain permanently.

A ‘No Deal Brexit’

Among the many challenges Brexit poses to the NHS, is that it needs to get ready to receive those over 100,000 retirees in Spain whose healthcare is currently being paid for by the British government in Spain.

Of course, there are many more retirees in other EU countries facing the same issues.

What would happen to British expats in Spain in a Brexit worst case scenario? In January,  U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

The Econo Times analysed the legal position of British citizens in Spain in the case of a no deal and they found that the NHS would indeed have to prepare for the return of hundreds of thousands of expats.

Spain’s Healthcare for UK Citizens

The Econo Explained that healthcare within the EU works on a reciprocal basis, relying on the legal basis that people can move around the euro zone and take their social security, pension, and healthcare entitlements with them.

But if the United Kingdom abandons the eurozone with no deal, the position of British expats in other EU countries who rely on reciprocal healthcare arrangements will be determined by the law of the country in which they reside.

Spain’s health system guarantees emergency care to everybody, no matter their citizenship. This policy will remain unchanged even after the Brexit.

The issue is when it comes to non-emergency healthcare of people who are not EU nationals in Spain which depends on their residency entitlements and their association with health insurance.

Presently, expats in Spain can prove permanent residency entitlement by reference to their EU citizenship, and to secure medical treatment as if they were Spanish by virtue of having paid U.K. tax and national insurance.

For now, pensioners, whether Spanish or expats, with annual incomes of over €100,000 pay 60 percent of prescription charges, capped at €60 a month, with lower co-payments (the amount that a patient contributes to the cost of their prescriptions) and lower caps for less wealthy pensioners.

Even if they have not paid tax and national insurance anywhere else, British pensioners are still covered by the Spanish health system as long as their income falls below a certain threshold.

But if and when the U.K. leaves the EU without a deal, expats in Spain would be entitled to receive medical care as foreigners with authorization to live in Spain under the country’s 2003 law.

“But in practice, to fall under the protection of the Spanish law, they will have to show their residency entitlements. As foreigners, they will only be able to secure a residence permit if they also have a work permit. Without that, pensioners will not be protected,” the Econo Times wrote.

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