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BREXIT

‘A massive betrayal’: UK’s no-deal Brexit healthcare pledge for pensioners in EU sparks anger

Campaigners for British people living in the EU accused the UK government of a massive betrayal on Monday after it was announced the health costs of pensioners would only be covered for six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

'A massive betrayal': UK's no-deal Brexit healthcare pledge for pensioners in EU sparks anger
Photo: AFP

Britain's health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that health costs for UK pensioners living in the EU and those with disabilities would be covered for six months if Britain leaves the bloc on October 31st without a deal.

That would see 180,000 UK citizens living in the EU, continue to have their healthcare paid for by the UK under the S1 scheme for six months after Brexit. 

That's six months less than a UK government pledge made in March to cover healthcare costs for on year in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Tourists who begin their trips to the EU before Brexit and students who begin their courses before October will also have their health costs covered under a no-deal Brexit.

But while health secretary Hancock claimed the announced showed that “protecting the healthcare rights of UK nationals is a priority of this Government” it prompted much anger among campaigners and an accusation of betrayal.

'A massive betrayal of British people in Europe'

“This is yet more smoke and mirrors from the UK government and another massive let-down for UK pensioners in the EU 27,” said Jeremy Morgan, the vice-chair of British in Europe.

“Having paid UK taxes and contributions all their working lives, when they moved to their host country, they had the right and expectation to NHS-funded medical treatment for life.  This was a key factor in the decision of many when moving.

“Now the only guarantee they have is for six more months, or up to a year if they have already started treatment.  Just think what that means to someone who already needs life-long treatment, or a pensioner who gets a cancer diagnosis a month after Brexit.”

Kalba Meadows from the France Rights campaign group said: “In just a few minutes since this news was published we've seen an outcry of anger among Brits in France – and with good reason.

“It's a massive betrayal of British people in Europe. All the promises that we were a priority and that we would be 'able to live our lives as before' have turned into an illusion”.

British pensioners living throughout Europe have been warned however that they must take action to register for healthcare in their member states or they faced being ineligible for the six months cover. Letters will be sent out to 180,000 citizens urging them to act.

“To be eligible for this support, people must apply within local timeframes or no later than six months after we leave, whichever is the shortest,” read the government statement.

But British in Europe's Morgan said: “The Government is urging them to “act now to secure access to healthcare” as if it were as simple as ordering coffee in a restaurant.

“People won’t get private health insurance if they have existing conditions, and in those countries where it is possible to join a national scheme the cost is simply unaffordable for someone living on the state pension worth 20 percent less in euros as a result of Brexit.”

The British government has said that it has proposed to each EU member state that healthcare costs for those on the S1 scheme be covered until December 2020, but that if countries do not agree on this date by October 31st then the cover will only last six months.

Confusion

As well as anger the announcement on Monday has provoked much confusion, especially in France, where the government has already passed a law that pledges to cover the healthcare costs of British pensioners for two years. Although the French decree depends on reciprocity with the UK.

“We don't know whether France is likely to reduce its two years health care cover in the light of the UK statement,” said Kalba Meadows from the France Rights campaign group.

“We don't know exactly what S1 holders in France will be required to do – will they have to make an application to join PUMa, and if so when? Or will the switch, if and when there is one, happen automatically?” she added.

“In other words, we don't know very much at all,” she said.

“I've been through a huge roller coaster of emotions over the last three years but this has upset me and made me more angry than anything else because it's targeting the most vulnerable who are already terrified,” she added.

Member comments

  1. The British people voted to leave the EU and they also chose not to switch to the euro. The EU doesn’t have to accept any deal from England. Why are people afraid of Boris? He is just enforcing what was voted for.

  2. Maybe but don’t forget that the people voted to leave the EU based on a stream of lies being broadcast by who ? Yes, Boris Johnson. It need not be said that the expatriates living in Europe were not allowed to vote in the refrendum. Teresa May promised that we would be given the vote once she was elected but once again an unfulfilled promise. Finally why should we have to pay 119 euros for a ‘permis de séjour’ when all European nationals resident in the U.K get theirs for free ? Reciprocity !!!

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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