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British expats in limbo as Brexit talks drag on

For pensioners, the situation continues to be the cause of growing anxiety

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British expats in limbo as Brexit talks drag on

For pensioners, the situation continues to be the cause of growing anxiety

11 June 2018 Monday 11:31
British expats in limbo as Brexit talks drag on

NICOSIA

With Brexit a little less than a year away, British expatriates and workers in Europe are calling for their government to provide clarity over their future status, as frustration rises over the sluggish pace of EU-UK divorce talks.

For pensioners, the situation continues to be the cause of growing anxiety.

Their well-oiled plans for a carefree retirement have been unsettled since London announced its intention to leave the EU, with many fearful that any changes to current health care arrangements could prove catastrophic. 

"If what is written in the draft Withdrawal Agreement about reciprocal healthcare is not delivered, many may not be able to afford care in their country of residence," Paul Hearn, a member of the pro-EU group Brexpats, said in an interview with Xinhua. 

Almost a quarter of a million British pensioners have chosen to make mainland Europe their home, the British Office for National Statistics (ONS) had revealed last September.

Spain, famed for its sun-soaked beaches, was a flyaway winner for British over-65s, accounting for over 121,000 older ex-pats who had left the shores of Britain.

It was double the number registered 10 years earlier. 

Just like the locals, they currently enjoy the full benefits of the health care system. Other European hotspots including Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and Portugal are also popular destinations for British retirees.

"Those who are particularly vulnerable -- the chronically ill, very old or with special needs -- are of greatest concern. Even if UK citizens who may be affected were to be compelled or wish to return to the UK, they do not have automatic rights to care there," he added. 

Brexpats, which campaigns for the preservation of rights of British nationals in the EU, said so far, Brexit hasn't been plain sailing.

On Friday, media in Britain reported that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned of a Brexit "meltdown" to guests at a private dinner.

It's now two years on since the referendum, and as negotiators continue to grapple over the terms of the separation, Britons living in EU countries are frustrated at the conspicuous lack of concrete information on their future status.

Britain will officially leave the EU on March 29, 2019. Hearn says it's not just pensioners that feel anxious over the grinding pace of talks, as uncertainty about what legal status Britons abroad will have keeps expats on their toes.

"Despite assurances given about existing rights being protected so that UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK can continue to live their lives as they did before Brexit, much uncertainty exists about whether that will be possible and no-one knows for sure whether this will be possible or, if it is, what permissions will be required to allow this," said Hearn. 

At the same time, rumors travel fast among expat communities. Debates are rife on subjects ranging from work permits to pension rights.

For younger Brits, with the future of their rights to move freely and work across EU borders remaining unclear, the lingering uncertainty can be unbearable.

Some fear they will not be able to continue to work as they do now and may not be eligible for future jobs that require EU citizenship.

"Exact numbers of UK citizens who have made their lives in the EU are not known," said Hearn, citing UK government figures generally report around 1.5 million Britons live on the continent.

"Of those, 75-80 percent are of working age or younger. This belies the myth that most UK citizens in the EU are retired and enjoying the good life."

Xinhua

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