Spain’s lead Brexit negotiator has said that he plans to support a Brexit deal, that allows British expatriates to remain in Spain and other parts of Europe with their benefits intact, including access to healthcare, it was reported yesterday.
According to a report in The Times, Madrid has said that it would, “in principle”, back an agreement that would allow Britons living in Spain and other parts of the EU to retain existing rights.
With the encroachment of March 29, the date that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has earmarked for the official triggering of Article 50, that begins the formal process of the UK exiting the European Union, Jorge Toledo, the Spanish secretary for the EU, and Madrid’s leading negotiator on Brexit, told The Times that, “we [the Spanish government] are broadly in favour of retaining a reciprocal agreement on questions like healthcare and freedom of movement.”
However, Toledo, who chairs a working group on Brexit within Spain’s centre-right government said that it was important that Spain and other EU bloc members follow the lead of Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit with the UK.
“As regards the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK 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,” he added.
This latest move towards a solution, comes after junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker said in a visit to Gibraltar last week, as reported, that 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,” Walker said in Gibraltar week.
“We think it’s absolutely right we have a moral responsibility to UK citizens. 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 UK,” he said.
1m UK expats
About one million Britons are estimated to live full time or part time in Spain, making it the biggest British expatriate community in the EU.
According to the UK Foreign Office 292,121 are registered with local councils, of which 101,997 are aged over 65. Many more are not registered but live in Spain permanently.
Many British expats have campaigned since the Brexit vote last June, due to concerns about access to healthcare and freedom of labour and movement and have demanded some kind of reassurance from London and Madrid.
After the referendum a series of British expatriate groups started campaigns to retain existing benefits by pressurising the government to make some gesture to guarantee rights for EU citizens in the UK.
Sue Wilson, of Bremain in Spain, which represents 4,000 expatriates mostly in the Costa Blanca area, told The Times: “I am delighted to hear this positive news from Spain. It is good to know that on this side of the negotiating table at least our fears and concerns are being taken seriously and there is a genuine desire to see us protected.”
“We would love to believe that the British government has our best interests at heart too. However, they have done nothing to demonstrate this despite continuing to say that they are acting in our best interests.
“If that were true they would have unilaterally safeguarded the rights of EU citizens in the UK by now, as their exiting the EU select committee recommended.”