EU referendum risks British expats’ pensions, health care and public services

Britons living on the continent may lose a range of specific rights that are only guaranteed because of EU law

Zlata Rodionova@zlata07
Monday 29 February 2016 14:23
Over 380,000 British expats would be at risk in Spain
Over 380,000 British expats would be at risk in Spain

The lives of 2 million UK citizens living, working and travelling in the other 27 Member States would be affected if Britain was to leave the EU, according to an official government’s paper.

Britons living on the continent may lose a range of specific rights that are only guaranteed because of EU law. These include the rights to live and work but also access to pensions, health care and public service, the Cabinet office warned in his first official report into the impact of a future Brexit.

“There would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained if the UK left the EU. Should an agreement be reached to maintain these rights, the expectation must be that this would have to be reciprocated for EU citizens in the UK,” the report said.

It could take Britain up to ten years to negotiate new trade deals with Europe, government officials warned.

David Lidington, Europe minister, said that the British exit could also prevent UK citizens from moving abroad.

“Everything we take for granted about access to the single market – trade taking place without customs checks or paperwork at national frontiers, the right of British citizens to go and live in Spain or France – those would all be up in the air. It is massive. It is massive what is at risk,” he said in an interview with the Observer.

Spain has the biggest British expat community in Europe with more than 380,000 people, followed by Republic of Ireland with around 250,000 and France with more than 172,000, according to United Nations statistics.

The study says the doubt will negatively impact on “financial markets, investment and the value of the pound” and lead to a “decade of uncertainty”.

George Peretz QC, an expert on EU law said UK citizens might lose much more than their rights to French state health services.

“UK citizens would lose their EU law rights to work, to set up a business, to buy property, to bring family to live with them, not to be deported for trivial offences and so on. France might let them do all those things. But that would be entirely up to France,” told The Local France.

The Prime Minister said the only way to leave the EU, if British people were to vote in favour of Brexit on June 23, would be to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of withdrawal.

The process is unprecedented, as no other country has ever used it before.

“A vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end, of a process. It would begin a period of uncertainty, of unknown length, and an unpredictable outcome. The broad procedural route is set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, ensuring exit is possible. But beyond procedure, nothing is agreed and nothing has been tested,“ the report said

“It is important the risk this [Brexit] present is understood,” it concluded.

However Boris Johnson, who has announced his support for the “out” campaign, has accused the Prime Minister and other campaigner of scaring voters.

“It is now obvious that the Remain campaign is intended to provoke only one emotion in the breast of the British public and that is fear,” he said in his column in the Daily Telegraph.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments