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People at the heart of Brexit - Stuart Gill

Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear that Maltese nationals in the UK will continue to be welcome. Photo: Reuters

Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear that Maltese nationals in the UK will continue to be welcome. Photo: Reuters

As a diplomat, my professional obsession is with the relationships between countries, whether between Malta and the UK, or the UK and the EU, or the US, and so on. I have done this from London and from several countries around the world but I have always understood that relationships between countries are not just part of an elaborate board game.

They are about people. They are about how people work and live, about how they relate to each other and about their many rights, which we all hold very dear.

We must not forget this when we look at the Brexit debate.

The manner of the UK’s departure from the EU will determine the future of our trade and security relationship and will affect many people, not least the thousands of British nationals who live here in Malta.

The deal concluded in Brussels on November 25 will protect and safeguard the rights of UK and EU citizens living in each other’s countries.

From the very start of the negotiations (and, indeed, long before they began) it was always our intention to protect the rights of British citizens living in EU countries and those of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom. The withdrawal agreement achieves just that. It is an extraordinary achievement of which the UK and the EU can be proud.

Here’s what it does for UK nationals living in Malta. They can continue to live their lives after the UK has left the EU in broadly the same way as they do now, provided they are legally resident in Malta before the end of 2020.

It also means they can continue to: reside in Malta permanently, access healthcare, receive their UK state pension, work freely and without discrimination, and have their professional qualifications recognised.

It is, after all, the people-to-people links which give us our strongest bond

The agreement also ensures that close family members are protected.

So, those people living, working, studying or retired in Malta will be able to keep on doing those things. And the same will apply to Maltese citizens living in the UK.

This is not to say that there won’t be some administrative changes, such as how citizens will register with the Maltese authorities.

In the coming months, my team and I at the High Commission will continue to work with the Maltese government on what people will need to do to prepare, including, if any, bureaucratic changes that may be required. Our shared objective is to make this as simple as possible.

We will also continue talking to British citizens in Malta, at public meetings and on social media, to make sure everyone understands the nature of the deal that has been agreed.

Of course, it is obvious from the extensive coverage in the United Kingdom and Maltese media that the withdrawal agreement still needs to go through the UK Parliament and to be ratified across member states, starting with the meaningful vote in the House of Commons later this month.

While neither the UK government nor the EU expects or wants a ‘no deal’ scenario, the UK continues to draw up necessary contingency plans, as is the Maltese government.

Both Prime Minister Theresa May and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat have made clear that UK nationals in Malta and Maltese nationals in the UK will continue to be welcome in our respective countries.

It is, after all, the people-to-people links which give us our strongest bond.

Stuart Gill is the British High Commissioner for Malta.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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