The Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has said that he thinks a deal can quickly be worked out with the UK to defend the rights of British expats in Spain after Brexit.
Rajoy has moved to calm fears of an exodus of British expats – of which there are estimated to be more than 500,000 – some of which are campaigning due to worries about rights to residence and healthcare issues. As reported yesterday, a survey highlighted that four out five British expats living in Europe were worried that they could lose their residency rights when the UK leaves the European Union.
And following last week’s rejection of an amendment to Article 50 legislation that would have allowed a reciprocal deal to continue for EU nationals living in the UK, and Britons living in Spain and the rest of Europe, there has been growing concerns relating to the status of expatriate Britons living on the European continent, post-Brexit.
In an interview with French newsire AFP, Rajoy moved to calm the brewing storm. He said: “I am absolutely convinced that we will reach an agreement so that these people will not be affected by political decisions.”
The hard Brexit stance and a rejection of reciprocal deals for expats have characterised the public face of the UK government, but behind the scenes, as Rajoy hints, there appears to be potential flexibility.
As reported, UK prime minister Theresa May, pictured left, visited Spain for a meeting last October with the Spanish PM, who stated at the time that he believed there was too much at stake on both sides to fail to come to an amicable deal.
And Rajoy has moved once again to reiterate his belief that Brexit will have little or no impact on expatriates, as concerns are rising over a post-Brexit future.
Healthcare, residency concerns
While official figures place the number of British expatriates living in Spain at around 740,000, some sources estimate the number could be closer to one million, many of whom are pensioners who retired to Spain for its sunny climate and relaxed lifestyle.
In addition to concerns about their right to remain in Spain post-Brexit, just who will foot their healthcare bills going forward is another major worry for such expats, since they currently receive treatment under a pan-EU scheme that, as long as the UK remained in Europe, entitled them to the same treatment as locals while resident in Spain.
Some experts say that, depending on what kind of deals are struck concerning residency rights, healthcare and other issues, tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of expatriate Britons could be forced to consider a return to the UK.
Despite these concerns, Rajoy hinted of a deal in the offing. “I hope that we will soon be able to tell them: Don’t worry, nothing is going to change for the Spaniards in the United Kingdom, nor for the Britons in Spain,” he told AFP.
Gibraltar dual sovereignty calls
While trying to calm British expats in Spain, Rajoy used the AFP interview platform to stir up the potential powder keg situation with Gibraltar, reiterating that he would use Brexit to renegotiate with London over the the status of Gibraltar.
The UK overseas territory on Spain’s southern tip that has been officially British since 1713.
“We are going to ask that all decisions affecting Gibraltar be made bilaterally between the United Kingdom and Spain,” Rajoy said in the AFP interview.
“I think that our proposal of shared sovereignty is quite reasonable,” Rajoy said, re-opening the matter.
Gibraltar’s chief minister
In a special video interview with International Investment, Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo, pictured, firmly refused the offer, outlining the Rock’s British heritage, before, as reported, launching an impassioned plea to UK MPs in a meeting held in the House of Commons.
In it he demanded that Gibraltar must not be used as a bargaining chip in any negotiations with Spain.
Rajoy, however, said the negotiations with the UK and Spain would start after an EU summit that will convene once Britain formally begins its EU divorce proceedings, expected for the end of March.
He also noted the importance of British tourism to his country, which attracts more visitors from Britain than anywhere else.
“Last year 17 million Britons came to Spain, and we want that to continue,” he said.
“They like it, and so do we.”