Updated 25 July: The British ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, has written the following open letter to all UK citizens living in Spain.
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.
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 [in the post below]. 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” (https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/brexit) and I would encourage you to sign-up for email alerts (you can do so on the Home Office gov.uk page) to receive updates, to ensure that you are receiving information and guidance from official sources.
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 nationals already 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 (see link).
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.
Updated 21 July: The UK’s Exiting the EU Dept has published a joint technical note with the European Union setting out their positions on citizens’ rights. It is a comparative chart, effectively, and has been published on the EU Commission and gov.uk websites and can be viewed HERE. It maps the alignment between the two parties’ positions, to prioritise future discussions, and summarises and compares them. Green indicates convergence, red indicates divergence, and yellow indicates where further discussion is required to deepen understanding.
Updated 26 June: In a parliamentary statement today in the House of Commons, Theresa May has said:
the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU. We will continue to protect the export of other benefits and associated healthcare cover, where the individual is in receipt of those benefits on the specified cut-off date. And subject to negotiations we want to continue participating in the European Health Insurance Card scheme, so that UK card holders could continue to benefit from free or reduced cost healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU and vice versa for EU card holders visiting the UK.
Whilst this is framed within the UK’s offer on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, an offer which EU negotiators say does not go far enough, it seems pretty inconceivable to me that May or whoever is PM at the time could go back on this position of preserving pensioners’ rights to pension increases and healthcare, and the EHIC system, regardlesss of the form of the final settlement.
Updated 22 June: Brexit negotiations have started and already the UK has had to concede that residents’ rights (along with the divorce settlement and the Irish border) will have to be agreed before any trade agreements can start. With now only 21 months – and counting – remaining of the 24 months within which all agreements need to be finalised, Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans is publishing a new report on the possibilities that exist for British nationals to retain EU citizenship regardless of what might be agreed in the negotiations.
The study was launched on Tuesday in the European Parliament, and the researchers will present their findings to the European Commission and the European Parliament. It is based on the report – ‘The Feasibility of Associate EU Citizenship for UK nationals post-Brexit’ – prepared for Evans by a team of researchers at Swansea University. One possibility explored by the study is a new status of ‘associate citizenship’. Jill Evans said that the “report is an important contribution to the debate around UK citizens retaining their EU citizenship, or having the right to become associate EU citizens”. She continued that many people still strongly considered “European” as part of their self-identity “and are horrified at the thought of losing their EU citizenship, with all the benefits it brings”.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) in the European Parliament said that the proposals were interesting and should be explored. Any British residents of Tenerife who did not want to see the UK leave the EU will certainly agree. Meanwhile, negotiations, such as they are, continue, but it will be a boost to the spirit of those who wanted to remain in the EU to see that someone is considering how they might be able to do so.
11 April: The FCO held a live Q&A session on Facebook today as I posted HERE, and in essence, FCO Consular Director Julia Longbottom reiterated all I’ve said below on this post, namely that everything of concern to British residents or property owners here will be the subject of negotiations which will take place over the next two years. No-one’s situation changes in that period, and there will be no new information until negotiations start, and it will then be a matter of policy as to what details the Government will release about those negotiations. When there is any clear information I will publish it here.
Updated 29 March: And so, today is B-Day, starting the two-year process of negotiation for the UK’s departure from the EU. From what the UK’s Exiting the EU Department says, together with comments from EU diplomats, particularly chief negotiator Michel Barnier from France, there is a clear agenda for discussion. First will be the €60bn “divorce bill”, and providing agreement is reached on that, second on the list is the residence rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and by extension, those of Britons living in the EU. At least this should provide an early clarification of our residence status and rights to remain in Spain. Today, then, is when it actually starts to get real.
Updated 20 March: The British Government has announced that Theresa May will trigger Article 50 to start the Brexit process on Wednesday next week, 29 March.
As I said below last month, the official position is that the residence situation of British nationals currently remains the same as before the referendum, and there is no additional requirement for a work permit or extra documentation, nor anything else to enable British nationals to continue living and working in Spain. The current requirements HERE remain valid until further notice.
Having said that, triggering Article 50 sets a clear start date for the two-year Brexit procedure, and since everything will then be a matter of negotiation, today’s announcement makes the next nine days a very good time for anyone who needs to formalise their legal position in Spain to do so. If you are living here and have not registered with the police, or are not on your local Ayuntamiento’s padrón, I would urge you to do so before Wednesday 29 March in case that date becomes significant in any determination of a right to remain in Spain.
Original post 7 February: The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office has reminded British residents in Spain that their residence situation currently remains the same as before the referendum. The FCO’s page is HERE for general advice on residency requirements.
I myself am frequently asked about the situation of Brits in Tenerife now that the UK “has left the EU”, but the UK has not left the EU yet, just voted to do so. As of this moment, and until two years after article 50 has been triggered, the UK is still in the EU. The decision reached in the referendum is currently being taken through Parliament, and it seems that Theresa May intends to trigger Article 50 (a power that Parliament has now given her) by 9 March, which would then become the starting point of the two year negotiating period.
In the meantime, there is no additional requirement for a work permit or additional documentation, nor anything else to enable British nationals to continue living and working in Spain. The current requirements HERE remain valid until further notice.
Beyond that, absolutely everything else will have to wait for the two-year process of negotiations, and I will post any firm information as and when it becomes available throughout this period. In the meantime, I would urge anyone living here who is not registered with the police (and with a Certificado de Registro), or not on a council padrón, to do so immediately.
In this respect, it is worth clarifying one question I’m repeatedly asked by people who have or had plans to move over in the next few years, namely whether “following Brexit, would it be wise to apply for permanent residency now?” The answer is, of course, that as is clear from the link to the current requirements linked to above, those living here do not have a choice to “apply for residency” but are under a “requirement to register”. Anyone living here should already be registered with the police, and anyone who is planning to move over cannot guarantee anything by pre-emptively getting a Certificado de Registro now, which in any case would mean making a false declaration of residence in Spain.
In any case, everyone should bear in mind that the Certificado de Registro is a certificate for EU nationals, and so might be replaced by some other requirements once the Brexit procedure is complete and the immigration conditions for Brits as non-EU nationals are confirmed.
So to reiterate, the current situation will remain the case while Brexit negotiations continue, and everything will have to be determined by negotiations yet to come. Nothing firm can be said until those negotiations are completed. For my more general thoughts, please see below for the post I originally made before the referendum took place, and for the UK Government’s advice for British nationals travelling and living in Europe in the wake of the Leave vote, please see HERE.
The following is what I originally posted in June 2015:
Maybe because it’s been in the news a lot lately, or because David Cameron is in Brussels right now telling the EU what it must do if the UK is to stay in Europe when the referendum is held at some point over the next two and a half years (link), but I’ve had a few emails lately asking what the implications would be for expats in Tenerife if the UK opted to leave. Obviously, to quite a large extent, this is a matter of opinion, perspective, and judgment, but there are one or two firm facts that we can at least use to help form views. The main questions I’m asked concern medical arrangements, pensions, and residential status, and so to cover these in turn:
First, medical arrangements. Clearly the reciprocal arrangements for EU member states could stop if the UK left the EU. This would leave pensioners without an S1 system whereby their cover in Spain is funded by the UK. There is a safety net in Spain, so it’s not inevitable that pensioners would be without health cover, but there are criteria: anyone who was first registered as a legal resident in Spain (with a Certificado de Registro) before 24 April 2012, and who has remained legally resident throughout, and who has an annual income of under €100,000, and who has no other healthcare cover, can apply to be registered for free healthcare in Spain as a resident. Whether UK nationals would be deemed to have “no right to any other healthcare cover” given that the NHS would cover them if they returned to the UK is another matter. It also seems likely that any rights under the reciprocal European healthcare system which provides British travellers with EHICs for emergency care and cover while out of the UK would be lost. These matters are among many which will form part of the negotiations to be undertaken during the Brexit procedure.
As far as pensions are concerned, the UK will pay these to whichever account an entitled pensioner requests, but David Cameron has said that if the UK leaves the EU, there will be no increases of British pensions for those living in the EU, just as pensioners living in, say, Australia, find their UK pensions frozen at the rate applicable at the point they left the UK. The Government has made noises following Cameron’s statement that suggest this may be negotiable, but the only firm statement made at present is that pensions of British pensioners within the EU will be frozen if the UK leaves the EU. The date at which the pension rate would be frozen is a matter of complete conjecture.
With regard to residence status, Spanish and European law gives residents of an EU nation state the right to reside permanently in another EU nation once they have been legally resident for five years. Once the UK leaves the EU, however, British citizens cease to become “residents of an EU nation” and so their right to remain cannot be taken for granted. That right also extends, though, to member states of the EEA (European Economic Area) and so unless there’s a “hard brexit”, the UK should remain in that group, thus preserving its citizens’ right to remain in Spain if they have been here legally for five years (again, this implies being in possession of a Certificado de Registro and being able to prove essentially continuous residence, presumably by means of an additional Certificate of Empadronamiento from an Ayuntamiento).
Assuming there is some right to remain for those who have been here legally for five years, it is not clear to me what the position would be for those who had not been here for five years, but under EU law I cannot see how Spain could just expel people who had arrived here legally and who had been officially processed. Regardless of length of residence, however, the status of anyone who had not registered with the police and acquired their Certificado de Registro would be “irregular”, rather than “illegal” – just as it is at present.
When it comes to the inheritance and gift tax reductions of 99.9% newly introduced in the Canaries from January 2016, and which apply to tax residents and non-residents alike, one of the few criteria that apply to receiving the reduction is that it applies to non-residents providing they are resident in another EU member state. This is because the non-discrimination requirements are based on EU regulations, and if the UK were to leave the EU, then the discount for inheritance and gift tax would no longer be available, as it is presently not available for those resident outside of the EU.
Incidental questions I’m also asked relate to driving licences – the UK’s involvement in the EU’s photocard licence scheme would be questionable; the effect on the exchange rate – this is a money expert’s question and even if I were one, which I’m not, I doubt I’d be prepared to guess! One thing is clear, howeer, and that is that anyone given the right to remain would retain their right to resident discount on travel within Spain because it is a subsidy given to Canarian residents, regardless of origin.
Obviously the above isn’t “factual” in the normal sense, and some things which are “facts” could change because policy or decisions can be altered, or there might be residual agreements put in place were the UK to leave. But that’s my best attempt given what is known at present to address the concerns I’m increasingly finding people have. I hope it helps, and I’m more than happy for this to be discussed however you like below.