Below is the text of the statement made by Robin Walker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, in the House of Commons on 4 April 2019.
Citizens have always been our priority in the negotiations for our departure from the EU. Today I am setting out further details on the steps that the Government are taking to protect UK nationals.
Reciprocal arrangements for social security co-ordination, including reciprocal healthcare, in a no-deal scenario
UK nationals who have chosen to build their lives in the EU and wish to remain there are concerned about their social security entitlements, including healthcare cover in the event of a no deal.
In the Government’s December announcement on citizens’ rights, we highlighted that aspects of the social security co-ordination section of the withdrawal agreement, including reciprocal healthcare, require reciprocity from the EU or member states and cannot be protected unilaterally. We set out that we were exploring further options to protect these rights in a no-deal scenario and the Department for Health and Social Care proposed maintaining existing healthcare arrangements with EU member states and EFTA states until 31 December 2020 on 19 March; with the aim of minimising disruption to citizens’ healthcare provision.
However, to fully protect UK nationals in the EU, the UK is seeking to protect the social security co-ordination rights of UK nationals in the EU, including reciprocal healthcare, by reaching reciprocal arrangements with the EU or member states to maintain existing rights for a transitional period until 31 December 2020, consistent with our guarantee of the healthcare rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
UK nationals are also concerned about their right to return from the EU with non-UK national family members after exit. Having listened to these concerns, I can confirm that UK nationals will be able to return to the UK with their existing close family members under current rules, until 29 March 2022. This means that where the relationship exists before exit or where a child was born overseas after this date, they will be able to apply to and qualify for the EU settlement scheme until 29 March 2022. After this date, such family members will be able to return to the UK by applying under the relevant UK immigration rules.
UK nationals living in the EU who return to the UK after exit will be able to be joined by future spouses and partners, where the relationship was established after exit, and other dependent relatives until 31 December 2020 if they previously lived in the EU with that family member. From 2021, the UK immigration rules will apply to such family reunion. These arrangements will apply in both a deal and no-deal scenario, providing UK nationals in the EU with sufficient continuity after exit to allow families to plan with confidence, while also bringing family reunion rights for all UK nationals in the UK and abroad into alignment from 29 March 2022.
Access to benefits and services
The Government have already announced that UK nationals living in the EU will continue to receive benefits, including child benefit and disability benefit, where the recipient is exporting a UK benefit to their EU country of residence. UK nationals in the EU who are already in receipt of a UK benefit, including the state pension, will also continue to receive these benefits should they choose to return to the UK.
UK nationals returning to live in the UK who meet the ordinary residence test will be able to use NHS services. This means that UK nationals who have returned to the UK permanently in a no-deal scenario would have access to NHS-funded healthcare on the same basis as UK nationals already living here.
UK nationals considering returning to the UK and planning to make new applications for benefits and services should check eligibility requirements for the relevant benefits and services on gov.uk. The usual entitlement conditions, which exist for both resident and returning UK nationals, will apply and we expect most returning UK nationals will be able to satisfy the necessary eligibility requirements. Certain benefits and services, such as non-contributory benefits, include satisfying certain residence criteria and individual decision makers will carefully consider each application to ensure that UK nationals receive the benefits and services that they are entitled to.
Access to higher education, further education 19+ and apprenticeship funding in the UK
UK nationals living in the EEA or Switzerland on exit day, who wish to study in England, will continue to be eligible for home fee status and student support from student finance England, along with access to further education 19+ funding for courses and apprenticeships in England starting up to seven years from exit day in a no deal scenario. In a deal scenario, the seven-year transition period will commence at the end of the implementation period.
The seven-year transition period will ensure that eligible UK nationals living in the EEA or Switzerland wishing to study in further education 19+, higher education, or undertake an apprenticeship in England, will be able to do so immediately on their return to the UK during this transition period.
The measures outlined above are without prejudice to the rights and privileges accorded, by virtue of the common travel area, to Irish and UK nationals when in each other’s state.
The Government continue to pursue a ring-fenced agreement with the EU and has exchanged letters with the European Commission on the subject. The UK has also reached separate agreements with the EEA EFTA states and Switzerland, which will mean that in a no-deal scenario UK and EFTA nationals living in each other’s countries before exit day will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do today.
We will continue to provide updates to UK nationals in the EU on gov.uk and through our network of embassies, consulates and high commissions.
Let me reiterate that securing the negotiated withdrawal agreement is in the mutual interest of all our citizens. It is the most effective way for the Government to guarantee the rights of UK nationals in the EU and to provide certainty.
I will be depositing the policy paper “Citizens’ Rights – UK nationals in the EU” in the Libraries of both Houses.