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Britain prepares to leave EU amid public concerns over uncertainty

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2020-01-31 09:51:56Xinhua Editor : Gu Liping ECNS App Download

Amid continuing public concerns over uncertainties, Britain is set to leave the European Union (EU) on Friday after its Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit deal was given final seal of approval in the European Parliament Wednesday.

There were emotional scenes in the European Parliament as MEPs voted by 621 to 49 in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement and linked hands to sing a final chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

British MEPs are packing up their offices in Brussels, as 3 million Brexit commemorative 50p (about 65.5 U.S. cents) coins, promising "friendship with all nations", will go into circulation across Britain on Friday to mark the exit at 11:00 p.m. (2300 GMT).

Johnson is expected to deliver a speech next week saying he is willing to accept border checks after Brexit, with sovereignty prioritised over frictionless trade, according to English newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

However, British citizens living in the EU remain confused and worried about their post-Brexit healthcare and pension provision, despite the fact that both issues were considered settled satisfactorily in the Withdrawal Agreement, a Guardian callout suggested.

More than 100 of over 600 British nationals on the continent, who responded to the callout, cited fears of shrinking pensions and losing the right to medical treatment.

Much of the confusion has arisen due to the announcements last year about the rules that would apply in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The signing of the Withdrawal Agreement, a legally binding international treaty, means these announcements are no longer valid.

In September, the British government announced that if Britain left the EU without a deal it would continue to fund the healthcare costs of Britons living abroad, mainly pensioners, who benefit from reciprocal healthcare arrangements for a maximum of six months, or 12 for people with pre-existing conditions.

Public concerns have not been assuaged by the fact that some EU states have not updated their Brexit information online to take account of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Under the agreement, at the end of the transition period in December 2020, anyone with an existing British S1 reciprocal healthcare form will continue to have their healthcare costs met by the government, as long as they remain legally resident in their host country.

An S1 form will also entitle the holder to a "UK European health insurance card" for treatment when travelling within the EU. Pensioners living on the continent will also continue to be entitled, under Britain law, to free treatment in Britain, said the Guardian.

With 80 percent of the estimated 1.3 million Britons on the continent of working age or younger, the Withdrawal Agreement's failure to guarantee continued rights to freedom of movement, cross-border working and cross-border recognition of professional qualifications for Britons was of real concern, said the newspaper.

After 11:00 p.m. (2300 GMT) Friday, the British passport is expected to change color. Blue passports will be making a return, more than 30 years after they were replaced by the current burgundy design.

Announcing the change in 2017, then British immigration minister Brandon Lewis praised the return to the "iconic" blue-and-gold design, first used in 1921.

The new color will be phased in over a number of months, with all new passports issued in blue by the middle of the year. Existing burgundy passports will continue to be valid, local media reported.

During the transition period starting from Feb. 1, Britain will continue to obey EU rules and pay money to the union. Johnson has said that he will not allow the transition period to be extended beyond Dec. 31.

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