The upcoming UK referendum on leaving the European Union has raised fears that British expats across Europe could feel compelled to return home.
The usual trickle of expats returning to the UK is expected to become a flood if the UK votes to withdraw from the EU on 23rd June. In such circumstances the uncertainty around the precise provision of pension and other benefits is likely to unsettle the approximately 1.2m British citizens currently living in the EU.
For example, French government officials have warned that if the UK leaves the EU then the 200 000 Brits living in the country could lose their current right to free healthcare.
Much of the referendum debate in the UK has centred around the benefits or otherwise of immigration and over recent years there has been a large disparity in migration flows between the UK and the EU with 2.9m Brits now living on the continent.
There is now growing speculation as to the nature of the post-exit deal that Britain would be able to strike with Brussels in the event that the referendum will record an Out vote in June.
James McGrory, of the Stronger In campaign, told The Times, “It’s clear that a Brexit would result in years of uncertainty for Brits abroad, with no automatic guarantee of their current rights.”
“Brits have automatic access to free health insurance in many EU countries because they enjoy the right to equal treatment and non-discrimination under EU law.
“If Britain were to leave, there would be nothing to stop Spain, France or any other country from preventing Britons from accessing their healthcare system, because they are free to discriminate against non-EU citizens.
“Brits who live in another EU country permanently, such as pensioners in Spain, are not covered by the NHS and therefore not paid for by the British taxpayer.”
Rob Oxley, of the Vote Leave campaign responded, “These numbers are a perfect example of how the balance of power favours the UK. There is a huge incentive for Brussels to do a deal.
“Pro-EU campaigners do Britain down by saying we can’t do a deal but we have a strong hand, and we should play it. Despite the scaremongering no British expats are going to be asked to leave the EU post Brexit.
“The UK gets a very bad deal and it’s in the interests of the EU to come to an arrangement.”