Malta-UK agreements to remain in place after Brexit - Prime Minister

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Maltese students in Britain need not worry, also giving his assurance that the Malta-UK reciprocal health agreement will remain in place

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat gave an update on the Brexit situation, and how this will affect Malta, in Parliament this afternoon
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat gave an update on the Brexit situation, and how this will affect Malta, in Parliament this afternoon

Malta and Britain have agreed that, come Brexit, all bilateral arrangements between the two countries will remain in place, including the 40-year-old reciprocal agreement related to Maltese citizens receiving free health care treatment in the United Kingdom.

In a ministerial declaration where he gave an update on affairs related to Brexit, Joseph Muscat said that, until EU-level negotiations with Britain were concluded, it had been agreed that the member states would not negotiate bilaterally with the UK.

However, he said, Britain’s attitude had been “very conducive to continued good relations with Malta”, and that the idea had also emerged that the two countries will negotiate a comprehensive framework agreement on various sectors, which will capture the UK-Malta agreements concluded over the years - including before Malta was an EU member.

Asked by Opposition leader Adrian Delia about the situation regarding Maltese students studying in the UK, Muscat said that this was something he was not worried about.

“There is no bad faith when it comes to students or citizens, even in the worst case scenario,” Muscat said, “I spoke about this with Theresa May a few weeks ago.”

“Besides being EU members, we are also members of the Commonwealth and have a very strong relationship with the UK. There is an understanding between both sides that in no way will citizens who live in our two countries be made to go through any negative experiences,” he emphasised.

Muscat said British citizens in Malta will be asked to register themselves as living on the island, “not through any form of antagonism, but because of a push to do so from the UK itself.”

Customs “very ready” for all Brexit scenarios

The Prime Minister said the customs department was amongst the most ready for any eventuality of Brexit, both in terms of the airport and in terms of sea merchandise.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat gave an update on the Brexit situation, and how this will affect Malta, in Parliament this afternoon
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat gave an update on the Brexit situation, and how this will affect Malta, in Parliament this afternoon

“The department has been beefed up, and they are very prepared, even for a no deal scenario,” he said.

The Brexit task force was working, he said, to see which opportunities arise to bring to Malta businesses which are leaving the UK.

He pointed out that during the budget speech yesterday, it was announced that a "financial instrument" would be offered to local companies whose main business involved trade with the UK, to help them adapt. “We have identified such companies and are already in discussions with them.”

Media campaign for Maltese citizens in the UK

European Affairs Minister Helena Dalli said the Maltese High Commission in London was in communication with the EU delegation, other diplomatic missions and the British Home Office to develop the “settled status scheme” for European citizens in Britain.

She said a media campaign will be launched to give Maltese citizens living in the UK information on the necessary documentation they will need to achieved “settled status”.

Work is also being undertaken within Identity Malta to facilitate necessary processes for British citizens in Malta.

Technical solution the only way

Muscat said that, in his view, the only solution to the Irish border impasse was a technical solution, and not a hard border.

“I believe the only viable way to solve this - pending a realpolitik scenario where you postpone Brexit indefinitely - is dealing with the border issue through a technical solution on the matter,” he said.

“On the side of the EU, there is the fundamental point that its treaties are built around the right to free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Once you try to separate one from the rest, this in itself goes against the European project, and no exceptions can be made because they are essential values of the Union.”

“The entire issue isn’t about the actual frontier - the core of the matter is the integrity of the UK. The UK is making a strong, valid point that if a hard border is created between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, this will create major problems, including for people to move between the two countries. The Good Friday Agreement means Northern Irish people are entitled to Irish citizenship, including EU citizenship,” he continued.

“And the border isn’t some straight line, but involves an intricate system of criss-crossing roads which are difficult to man. The moment you create a hard border, there is the real danger that this could lead to terrorist attacks. Many people are fearful that this will reignite the conflict during the Troubles, which was almost eliminated from Europe,” Muscat stressed.

“The only way a solution can fly is if it is a technical one,” he reiterated.