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Malta wants to be “the most UK-friendly country in the EU”

Malta wants to be “the most UK-friendly country inthe EU for both citizens and businesses”, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at a press conference, where he also outlined the Government’s plan to deal with the impacts of Brexit, including preparations for a no deal scenario.

He explained that 82 pieces of legislation will be impacted by Brexit. And there will be 36 ‘plans of action’ taken by 13 ministries due to the different consequences resulting from a no deal scenario. 15 other consequences are being tackled by the EU since they fall within their competence.

He confirmed that national as well as EU preparations are underway, with the European Commission proposing around 18 legal instruments in a number of fields, such as air transport.

Discussions on a European level include the UK being listed as a country where its citizens do not need a visa to travel to EU countries, “a crucial point that needs swift concluding”.

Discussions on financial services are also taking place, where the European Commission is looking into mitigating risks. He confirmed that the rules of the World Trade Organisation will apply on commerce from the moment a no deal starts.

On a national level, the most important focus is citizens’ rights, the Prime Minister continued, stating that both Maltese living in the UK (of which there are 30,000), and British citizens living in Malta (around 13,000 of which 5,000 are working) are “justly anxious”. He announced a Brexit hotline would soon launch, where worried citizens can call.

However, for the Maltese community in the UK, Prime Minister May has committed to allowing those resident in the UK by March 2019 to apply for ‘settled/pre-settled status’, giving a grace period until 2020 for residents to apply for settled status. 

Pensions will continue to be exported, and family reunifications facilitated in the usual way until 2022. “These were very welcome declarations by the British Prime Minister, to put many Maltese living in the UK minds at rest”, said the Prime Minister 

“We also noted the European Commission’s request for member states to be generous in their offers to UK citizens, which we fully intend to do.”

He explained that UK citizens currently residing in Malta, and who intend to stay after 29 March 2019, will have to apply for a new residence document issued by Identity Malta as per EU guidance, which will be valid for 10 years. 

In the interim, and until new documents are issued, which will be free of charge, Malta will allow UK nationals to continue using their current documents.

 

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This new residence document will reflect the fact that UK nationals are no longer EU nationals, but a new “special’ category of EU nationals who have moved to Malta. “And it intends to protect the life choices made by these UK nationals when the UK was still a member of the EU”, the Prime Minister said, adding that Malta will reciprocate the UK’s offers to the Maltese in the UK, to the UK community here, “because we hope the UK diaspora that calls Malta home will stay. 

He added that UK workers will have open access to our labour market, and will not need a work permit. Students will be allowed to continue pursuing their studies, and family members shall be allowed to reside with their UK sponsor.

UK nationals who move to Malta after the withdrawal date, will also be issued with residence documents valid for 10 years. However, the conditions they will be subject to will be different, and more comparable to the current rules for non-EU nationals.

“They will be charged residence fees currently applicable to non-EU nationals and, if they want to work, they need an employment licence.”

The Prime Minister explained how Cabinet also discussed voting rights for UK nationals, who will no longer be allowed to vote in European Parliament elections. Because Maltese nationals in the UK will be able to vote, the UK has asked for its citizens residing in Malta to have the right to vote in local council elections. “This was a right enjoyed by UK nationals before Malta’s accession to the EU in 2003, and one we are keen to continue.

The Prime Minister also said that another cause for concern for citizens is health care, a sector in which Malta and the UK have always had a strong relationship, with Maltese patients receiving specialised treatment if not available in Malta, and the British community receiving treatment in Malta when needed. 

“This is a relationship we want to retain and strengthen. And we have no reason to believe the UK would not like to do the same.”

He said the UK is a very important source for Malta’s medicinal product suppliers. So when and where possible, Malta is advising its suppliers and retailers to seek alternative sources from the EU to source medicines. We are also stockpiling medicines as a back-up.

He continued to say that a no deal scenario will inevitably mean more screening and checks on people crossing into and out of the EU, so changes might need to be made at the Malta International Airport. With similar changes needed at customs.  

“And should there be a no deal, the Union Customs Code will apply from the first day after withdrawal. With our customs personnel needing to be equipped with the necessary IT and human resources to cope with the new challenges. Which we will ensure they are.”

Although the Customs Department already has an informative website, it will soon start an outreach exercise with the business community to explain how the changes will affect them in practice, the Prime Minister continued.

The Government has already launched an assistance measure to help businesses prepare for Brexit. Each business can apply for a grant of up to €4,000 (50% of costs) to cover assessments on how to mitigate the consequences of the UK leaving the EU, reducing any financial burden on their companies.

Prime Minister Muscat concluded by thanking the British High Commission in Malta, the European Commission for all their assistance and cooperation, members of Cabinet, the Principal Permanent Secretary and civil service, the Brexit Task Force, stakeholders, residents, and businesses.

 

Source: Press Release by the Office of the Prime Minister

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