Ex­pats need facts not 'glib' spin

UK Gov­ern­ment min­is­ter vis­it­ing Madrid ac­cepts wor­ried ex­pats need spe­cific in­for­ma­tion

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UK Gov­ern­ment min­is­ter vis­it­ing Madrid ac­cepts wor­ried ex­pats need spe­cific in­for­ma­tion

By Jack Troughton GOV­ERN­MENT min­is­ter Robin Walker has ac­cepted wor­ried Bri­tish ex­pats in Europe need spe­cific in­for­ma­tion how Brexit may change their lives rather than “spin”.

Af­ter meet­ing with mem­bers of the Bri­tish com­mu­nity, he said he wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity to talk with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of UK cit­i­zens who had made their home in Spain and “val­ued” the chance to hear their con­cerns – again stress­ing that se­cur­ing the rights of cit­i­zens post-Brexit re­mained a “top pri­or­ity” for the gov­ern­ment.

Mr Walker, the Un­der Sec­re­tary of State at the de­part­ment for ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union and re­spon­si­ble for cit­i­zens’ rights, was in Madrid last Thurs­day and met rep­re­sen­ta­tives of cam­paign groups at the Bri­tish Em­bassy.

As well as meet­ing ex­pats, the politi­cian also spoke with Span­ish gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and mem­bers of the busi­ness com­mu­nity dur­ing his visit.

There are an es­ti­mated 300,000 UK cit­i­zens of­fi­cially reg­is­tered as liv­ing in Spain and some 180,000 Span­ish peo­ple who have cho­sen to call Bri­tain home.

Dur­ing an hour-long meet­ing with the min­is­ter, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Bre­main in Spain, Br­ex­pats Spain, ECREU and EuroCi­ti­zens dis­cussed con­cerns; they also met with mem­bers of the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice team to be up­dated on health­care, regis­tra­tion, and con­sular sup­port.

And af­ter the ‘cor­dial’ meet­ing, the groups is­sued a joint state­ment and said, “Whilst thank­ing the min­is­ter for meet­ing us, we roundly crit­i­cised HM Gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to en­gage with us more fully at an ear­lier stage and for ig­nor­ing Bri­tish in Europe’s re­peated re­quests for meet­ing with the de­part­ment for ex­it­ing the EU and with Theresa May. We also com­mented on the prime min­is­ter’s fail­ure to even men­tion us in re­cent key speeches.

Gov­ern­ment spin

“On the topic of UK gov­ern­ment mes­sag­ing, af­ter hear­ing our crit­i­cisms of gov­ern­ment spin, Mr Walker ad­mit­ted that it was not enough to pro­duce glib and gen­eral state­ments in an at­tempt to re­as­sure Bri­tons in the EU-27 and that cit­i­zens needed spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about how changes might af­fect their lives.”

Dis­cussing the cur­rent with­drawal agree­ment, they said the min­is­ter recog­nised it did not in­clude key rights such as free­dom of move­ment be­tween the re­main­ing 27 coun­tries of the EU – Mr Walker said this would de­pend on the out­come of ne­go­ti­a­tions but state­ment said: “We strongly crit­i­cised this po­si­tion, stress­ing that the 1.2 mil­lion Bri­tons in Europe are a fi­nite group who have al­ready ex­er­cised our free­dom of move­ment rights within the EU-27.”

It was sug­gested the EU might keep Bri­tish ex­pats’ free­dom of move­ment in ex­change for al­low­ing Euro­pean cit­i­zens in the UK an in­def­i­nite right of re­turn.

The cam­paign groups said the min­is­ter re­mained ‘con­fi­dent’ a deal would be reached but pointed out there were ‘huge risks’ for UK mi­grants in Spain in the event of a no-deal sce­nario – and none of the re­cent ‘tech­ni­cal notes’, ad­vis­ing on the ef­fects of Bri­tain leav­ing with­out an agree­ment, even men­tioned ex­pats in Europe and the on­go­ing un­cer­tainty and pos­si­ble loss of rights.

“We pointed out that no tech­ni­cal note re­gard­ing UK in EU had been pub­lished and that any uni­lat­eral guar­an­tees by the UK gov­ern­ment were in­suf­fi­cient with­out re­cip­ro­cal agree­ment. The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all four groups were united in their de­mand for the ur­gent ring-fenc­ing of cit­i­zens’ rights from other as­pects of the with- drawal agree­ment.”

How­ever, Mr Walker did have ‘very pos­i­tive news’ for ex­pats; he said bi­lat­eral talks be­tween the Bri­tish and Span­ish gov­ern­ments re­gard­ing fu­ture po­lit­i­cal rights were at an ad­vanced stage and should be con­cluded soon to al­low UK cit­i­zens in Spain and Span­ish na­tion­als in the UK to vote and stand in lo­cal elec­tions.

Sta­tus Quo

Cam­paign­ers stressed, “The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is one of ne­go­ti­at­ing de­grees of loss, given the EU sta­tus quo was far su­pe­rior to any­thing that could be ob­tained in the con­text of Brexit, let alone in a no-deal sce­nario.”

Fol­low­ing the meet­ing, Mr Walker said he was pleased to have met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the ex­pat com­mu­nity and up­date them on what the gov­ern­ment was do­ing to safe­guard their rights.

“I also val­ued the op­por­tu­nity to hear their con­cerns about res­i­dency, pen­sions, on­ward move­ment and vot­ing rights, and the un­cer­tainty that many of them still feel about what Brexit means for them and their fam­i­lies,” he said.

“Se­cur­ing the rights of cit­i­zens has al­ways been our top pri­or­ity. The draft with­drawal agree­ment will se­cure the rights of UK na­tion­als liv­ing in Spain, and Span­ish cit­i­zens and their fam­ily mem­bers liv­ing in the UK.”

He added in the ‘ un­likely’ event that Bri­tain left the EU with­out a deal, Mrs May had con­firmed all EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in the UK be­fore Brexit on March 29 next year would be able to stay in Bri­tain. “I want Bri­tish ex­pats in Spain to know that, dur­ing my meet­ings, I have un­der­lined how val­ued and sig­nif­i­cant it would be if the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment now of­fered them the same re­as­sur­ance.”

Ad­vice for UK na­tion­als liv­ing in Spain is avail­able at www.gov.uk/guid­ance/livin­gin-spain; there is also the Brits in Spain Face­book page for “of­fi­cial and ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion”.

Robin Walker (top left) with Deputy Head of Mis­sion Tim Hem­mings at the meet­ing

Gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Robin Walker

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