The Spanish government issued a decree on Friday that guaranteed continued healthcare access to British residents and tourists after Brexit, as long as certain reciprocal conditions for its own citizens are met.
The healthcare provision is part of a contingency package designed to address issues that may arise should the UK leave the EU without a deal at the end of this month.
Healthcare, education, travel, pensions, residency and freedom of movement for workers who travel between Gibraltar and Spain are among the concerns facing British expats and visitors. The contingency package involved 17 Spanish government ministries.
“We hope this never has to be used, because if it is, it means that the UK has left the EU through the window,” said foreign minister Josep Borrell, adding that: “We will do everything we can to make this decree unnecessary.”
The decree was announced after Friday’s weekly cabinet meeting, the last for prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s government before parliament is dissolved on Tuesday in anticipation of Spain’s April 28 national elections.
A Spanish foreign ministry official described Madrid’s position on healthcare in the face of a no-deal Brexit as one of “maximum generosity” but added that it expected equal treatment.
The healthcare provision is contingent on reciprocity for the more than 150,000 Spanish citizens resident in the UK and on the UK’s continued reimbursement of healthcare costs incurred by its citizens in Spain under the present terms. Tourists are also covered by the plan. In 2018, 18.5m British tourists visited Spain.
In the case of freedom of movement and work permits for workers from the disputed British territory of Gibraltar, Madrid expects reciprocity for the 9,000 Spaniards who cross the border for work.
“The main purpose [of this decree] is to ensure that no citizen is left unprotected,” Mr Borrell said. “The British living in Spain will continue as before and the Spaniards who live there will as well.”
There are approximately 300,000 British citizens registered as living in Spain. Under the contingency law, they will have until the end of 2020 to apply for residency as non-EU citizens. Unregistered Britons in Spain will have until the date of Brexit to register; once registered, they can begin the residency application process. Madrid expects to grant residency to 400,000 Britons.
Previously, Madrid and London had signed a deal to guarantee continued voting rights for Spanish and British citizens living in each other’s countries after Brexit. Signed in January, it was the first such agreement between the UK and one of the bloc’s 27 remaining member states.
One issue not part of the Brexit contingency decree is the possibility for British residents to attain dual UK/Spanish citizenship, which is currently prohibited.
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