Retired Britons in Europe are not sipping prosecco on a warm terrace but are struggling to make ends meet and fear further poverty because of Brexit, a parliamentary committee has been told.
Jeremy Morgan QC said retirees in the EU living exclusively or almost exclusively on British pensions have already suffered a decrease in their income because of the depreciation in sterling since the referendum.
They were hit by a second blow last month when the government revealed it would not give a lifetime guarantee to index-link their pensions if the UK crashed out of the EU without a deal.
“There is real hardship. The impression sometimes given by the tabloid press is that everyone on pension age living in the EU is supping prosecco on a terrace in Tuscany or something like that.
“There are huge numbers of people who made a very rational decision years ago to move because they could afford to move because they could make their pension go a bit further in countries like rural France or in Spain and they are in desperate straits because of this,” Morgan told peers on the House of Lords EU justice sub-committee.
The committee chair, Lord Morris, identified the pension issue as of “fundamental concern” to the 220,000 British pensioners living in the EU. He said the issues “have got to be resolved”.
Morgan said it was not good enough for the British government to expect other EU countries or the European commission to guarantee their rights.
“Britain can’t just wash its hands of its citizens abroad,” said Morgan.
The committee heard that pensioners were desperately worried, with one peer relaying reports of a story about a 99-year-old Briton who had lived in Poland for 50 years and had received a letter from the Polish authorities saying her healthcare would no longer be covered in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
While Boris Johnson is hoping his Brexit deal can be passed sooner or later, the prospects of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement remains real with the prime minister facing another knife-edge vote on Tuesday night.
Morgan, who is a retired barrister living in Italy and part of the British in Europe campaign group, said the costs to the UK government would double if they had to pay healthcare for returning British pensioners
“If Britain pays healthcare of its pensioners abroad it would cost roughly half what it would cost to come back here and be treated by the NHS,” he said.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it would increase the state pension for UK citizens in the EU for the next three years under the “triple-lock” arrangements – which guarantee a rise by either 2.5%, average wage growth or by the consumer price index, whichever is higher – as announced last month.
“During this three-year period the UK government plans to negotiate a new arrangement with the EU to ensure that uprating continues,” said a spokesperson.