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As Brexit looms, efforts to ensure continuity for people

Ljubljana, 21 March - Regardless of how Brexit unravels at the political level, the lives of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK may change. According to British Ambassador to Slovenia Sophie Honey, the Embassy and the Slovenian government are working together to provide continuity for the people and make it clear that they remain welcome.

Ljubljana
British Ambassador Sophie Honey.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

In the event of a negotiated Brexit, measures are in place to ensure things run smoothly for the people in a transitional period until the end of 2020. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the status of citizens in the respective countries will depend more on bilateral talks with each country, Slovenia included.

"While the nature of our relationship will change as and when the UK leaves the EU, all of our planning is focussed on trying to ensure that this change isn't felt so directly day-to-day. That's what our priority has been with the government here," Ambassador Honey said in an interview with the STA.

"That is why the commitments [the Slovenian government] have given to protect the status of British nationals here - are really important. And we continue to work through some of the key issues and make sure that we have everything in place."

The Slovenian government has now adopted a bill on reciprocal rights for British citizens residing in Slovenia, of whom there are around 700; about 5,000 Slovenians have made the UK their home.

Ambassador Honey says her Embassy has been "in very close touch with the Slovenian government" as well as the Slovenian Embassy in London. "I'm reassured that we've had a very similar approach and stance on this. Key to that has been a shared sense of the importance of continuity for our citizens, for people who have made their homes in each other's countries."

"This period is undoubtedly complicated, but I'm still optimistic about the future and everything that needs to be done so that cooperation continues," she said.

The Embassy has held a series of outreach events across Slovenia in recent weeks to talk to British nationals living here and address any issues and concerns they may have.

"We've been doing a lot of outreach in the British community to reassure people that both in the case of a deal or in the case of a no deal Brexit, they are still welcome here and the Slovenian government wants them to stay and to protect their rights."

"The Slovenian government has made clear - including now through legislation - that British people living in Slovenia would be entitled to stay and retain their status and be able to work and live here as previously."

Some concerns are very fundamental - others are more practical.

"Many people ask me: 'What's the stance of the Slovenian government towards us?' And I reassure them - all the messages I've received from the Slovenian government are that yes, the government welcomes the British community and wants to enable the people to stay and continue their lives here as until now."

At a more practical level, British people living in Slovenia have raised specific questions - for example about residency, driving licences, access to healthcare and pensions.

People have asked about access to pensions in the future as well as whether their access to healthcare remains the same.

For most of those who have temporary or permanent residence in Slovenia, their health insurance is covered by the employer.

For some people reliant on a special type of reciprocal cooperation within the EU called S1 forms, the details are still being worked out with the Slovenian government. Such people have been advised to check their cover and make sure they have at least basic cover, according to the ambassador.

Companies, meanwhile, are mostly interested what will happen so that they can plan for that and deal with it, but this is challenging. "It's difficult to tell businesses exactly what will happen. What we have tried to do is to explain the most likely scenarios."

Having talked to companies doing business in the UK, the Ambassador said she has seen a pragmatic determination to continue cooperation - businesses say they will find a way. There are very strong links that go many years back, and new opportunities ahead. Despite the potential change in conditions Slovenian companies are determined to continue doing business with the UK.

What will not change is that Slovenia and the UK have an overall "strong relationship that predates the time either of us were EU members and that will continue," according to the ambassador.

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© STA, 2019