David Cameron was unable to make proper reassurances to British people living in mainland Europe, in his first Prime Minister's Questions since the vote to leave the EU.
During the wide ranging session, Mr Cameron was asked by Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, about the future status of British migrants in Europe.
Estimates have placed the number of British nationals living in mainland Europe at more than one million and their status has now been thrown into uncertainty by the vote to leave.
“There are hundreds of thousands of expat, United Kingdom citizens, living around Europe, who did not vote in the referendum,” Sir Gale said in the chamber.
“Many of them are elderly and frail. They live on UK pensions and UK benefits. Will my right honourable friend [the PM] ensure that his successor defends their interest?”
Mr Cameron replied: “On this issue of British citizens living overseas, I think we should reassure people that until Britain leaves the EU, there’s absolutely no change in their status.”
However, he stopped short of saying what would happen after Britain had left, instead shifting attention to the work of a newly created Whitehall unit, established to deal with withdrawal of Britain from the EU.
The Prime Minister said: “One of the things that this unit at the heart of Whitehall can do through the coming weeks is to go through these issues [concerning British expats] very methodically and work out what might need to change in all the different scenarios, to give these people a certainty about their futures. And it’s obviously very important that we do that.”
This policy unit will be responsible for a wide range of complex and far-reaching decisions in international affairs. No guarantees were made by Mr Cameron as to how much time it would spend looking at the issue of elderly British migrants living in Europe.
Estimates on how many British migrants live in which country vary, but Spain has consistently topped surveys. The Mediterranean country is thought to be home to between 300,000 and 700,000 Britons. Many of these people are poorly integrated into Spanish society and live in English-speaking communities isolated from the rest of the country.
This has led to concerns over what would happen to their legal status and healthcare provisions in the event of Brexit, when the government formally invokes Article 50.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies