Ambassador: focus is on future health deal

Healthcare in France after Brexit is one of the principal worries of Britons contacting the UK embassy, Ambassador Lord Llewellyn has said.

27 February 2019
By Oliver Rowland

The embassy confirms that in the case of no-deal, France would maintain British state pensioners’ healthcare rights for at least two years.

Both countries are “very focussed” on making arrangements for after that, and there has been contact between health ministries about a possible bilateral deal, added Lord Llewellyn.

He told Connexion that any such deal would be specific to Britons in France before Brexit and separate to any arrangements that may be negotiated for future arrivals or visitors. For example, the UK is keen the EHIC system should continue.

If there is a deal, British pensioners would be protected in perpetuity, unless they go away for more than five years.

Lord Llewellyn said: “In a no-deal, the French would honour S1 rights for two years and for those accessing healthcare via employment, for example, that would continue as before.”

State pension uprating will apply for the UK financial year 2019-2020 pending discussions with the EU, or country by country, in a no-deal (in the deal it is provided for).

The UK has expressed willingness to continue this based on reciprocity. A French government source said it would continue paying its citizens’ pensions in full in Britain whatever happens with Brexit.

Also confirmed for 2019-2020 academic year is national rate fees for young people from families in France studying in the UK. For the future, the UK’s Depart­ment for Education has yet to decide.

The ambassador said both sides take expatriates’ rights “very seriously” but the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” was one that Brussels had expressed firmly from the start of talks.

“We did suggest at the beginning dealing with the issue of citizens’ rights separately.”

The­resa May said in January 2017 she was ready to agree on rights for citizens on both sides but the EU said it should be part of the formal negotiation and could not come before article 50 was triggered.

“The focus now is to make sure that whatever happens, citizens’ rights are protected to the maximum,” he added.

“And we have made good progress. I can’t pretend there will be no changes, but if we leave with a deal, there are considerable protections and people will be able to live and work in France broadly as they do now.

“If we leave without a deal, the French government, like the British government, has been clear that it wants people to stay.”

Prefectures are putting extra resources into dealing with cartes de séjour, he said, but new dedicated services have not been officially confirmed.

The embassy continues to report problems at prefectures to the Interior Mini­stry and changes have been made.

The no-deal Brexit ordonnance (see page 4) is a first step in setting out no-deal rules, to be followed up by more detailed decrees. The embassy is in talks over whether you must apply by March 2020 or have received a card by then.

Speaking about income requirements for cartes de séjour under the current EU rules, Lord Llewellyn said the embassy is aware the rules appear unclear and are left to officials’ discretion.

“We are talking to the French authorities about income requirements for cards.

“They are clear with us they want arrangements to be reciprocal, so we are making the point that the UK is not applying this to EU citizens.”

Asked why rights issues, like uprating and healthcare, always require reciprocity, he said the UK prefers it but it sometimes acts unilaterally, as in waiving “income tests” for EU citizens.

Lord Llewellyn said he is not  aware that many Britons have either left France or are rushing to come before Brexit.

“What is clear is that British people enjoy living and working here and want to stay.”

He said uncertainty was the big worry for businesses, which would much prefer a deal.

French ministers are also aware of the need to prepare well at the ports and the Channel Tunnel, he added. “We need to maintain maximum fluidity, in both our countries’ interests.”

He said it is still “entirely possible” for the UK to leave with a deal, but it plans to leave on March 29 with or without one.

“Everyone is working very hard to try and deliver a deal that commands the support of the House of Commons so Britain can leave on March 29 in an orderly way,” he said.

However, the MPs’ “serious concerns” about the Northern Irish backstop will have to be resolved, he said.

“The government has not asked for an extension.

“The prime minister has been clear we are leaving on March 29 and that date is in UK law.

“That’s why it is important to achieve the agreement, but we can’t exclude the possibility of a no-deal, which is why we must prepare.”

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