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The UK’s decision to bill EU nationals for using healthcare has sparked tension with Brussels. On Tuesday, the government announced that EU nationals living in the UK would be required to pay a surcharge for access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
The decision to introduce this new fee has been met with strong criticism from EU officials, who accuse Britain of treating EU citizens unfairly. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “shocked” at the news of the surcharge and vowed to take action if it went ahead.
The fee is part of a wider reform of the UK’s immigration system which will require EU citizens to register and apply for settled status if they wish to stay in the country after December 2020. The surcharge is expected to raise up to £220 million a year for the NHS.
The European Commission has said that it would “carefully consider” any legal challenges that may arise in response to the fee. The move comes amid a backdrop of increasingly strained relations between the UK and its EU partners over Brexit.
Critics of the move argue that it will discourage EU nationals from contributing to the UK’s economy, while those in favour argue it is a necessary step to ensure that the NHS is funded properly.
The UK government has defended the move, arguing that it is only right that EU nationals should contribute to the NHS in return for the treatments they receive. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the fee should not be seen as a “hostile act”.
Ultimately, the move is likely to further pressure the already strained relationship between the UK and the EU, as Brussels continues to take a hard line against the UK’s plans for Brexit.