Why Brexit is ‘a matter of life or death’ for some Brits in Europe

The stress of the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and the failure of the UK government to take steps to guarantee the rights of expats has put the health of many of those Britons living in France and Spain on the line.

Why Brexit is 'a matter of life or death' for some Brits in Europe
Photo: AFP

British cancer patient John Shaw, 71 was at the high court this week as judges delivered a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of preventing parliament having a say over triggering the divorce from the EU.

“For some of us this is a matter of life or death,” Shaw told reporters massed outside the court.

His group, which “represents the two million British citizens living in other parts of the EU,” has been heavily involved in fighting the government’s attempt to keep parliament out of the picture when it comes to triggering Article 50.

“We are the human side of Brexit,” said Shaw, who lives with his wife Jill in the Lot-et-Garonne department of south west France.

“Everything people in Britain take for granted in their daily lives rests – for us – on being EU citizens. From being able to work, to accessing vital healthcare, and our children’s education.”

Shaw says healthcare is the key issue for the tens of thousands of British pensioners living throughout Europe.

“Healthcare is absolutely key. Many UK pensioners are entitled to join the healthcare systems in the countries in which they live,” he said.

“These rights would be lost. Thousands of UK expats would be unable to continue to receive the healthcare to which they are entitled.”

When it comes to healthcare, British pensioners who paid into UK system have most of their costs in France and Spain covered under the EU’s S1 scheme.

But if governments refused to maintain the scheme after Brexit then pensioners would most likely be forced to shell out for private healthcare cover or hope that governments agree to allow British nationals to join one of the state insurance schemes like PUMA in France.

“I have cancer for the third time and get treatment in France, so it is a matter of life or death,” Shaw said.

“If the S1 scheme was scrapped I would be denied access to the French system and would have to start paying for treatment myself,” Shaw tells The Local.

He also tells the story of his friend Paul, who was refused cancer treatment on the NHS because of the costs involved, but was able to move freely to France and receive the same treatment there.

(A protester at the Supreme Court this week. AFP)

A parliamentary select committee in Westminster heard recently how tens of thousands of Brits abroad may have to return home to get treatment on the NHS if their health costs were not covered.

“Imagine the impact on the NHS when they all go back,” says Shaw. “It’s a disaster all round, whichever way you look at it.”

“I have been talking to many people in Spain who say they actually went out to places like Majorca because of the benefits of the sunshine and the warmth on their health conditions,” said Shaw.

But it’s not just what happens in the future that could have a negative impact on the health of “Brexpats”.

The uncertainty following last June's referendum and the impact of the falling pound against the euro has already affected people’s well-being, in some cases seriously.

“The levels of stress and worry among elderly British citizens living abroad is concerning,” Shaw says.

The France based pro-EU campaign group RIFT (Remain in France Together) that was set up since the referendum presented evidence to the select committee about the health impact of all the uncertainty.

One member of the group said: “My mental and physical health have both suffered since Brexit. I have lost weight, have some sleepless nights, lost my focus on my business and have got a script for anti-anxiety pills. I spent almost three weeks house ridden after 23rd June. I'm slowly coming around.”

Another said: “Brexit has instilled me with anxiety, gives me sleepless nights and much worry.” 

To end their worry Shaw and members of numerous other expat campaign groups that have sprung up since the referendum are demanding that the British government act now to guarantee their rights and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, before the tortuous Brexit negotiations with the EU begin.

The government must stop using us as “bargaining chips”, Shaw says.

Spanish based Briton Sue Wilson told MPs in Westminster that Britons abroad cannot be made to wait years for their rights to be guaranteed.

“People are suffering now and people have been suffering since [the referendum on] June 23rd because of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen in the future.

“Whatever needs to be decided needs to be decided soon because these people can't wait two and half years for the solution,” said Wilson.

READ ALSO: Brits in France and Spain tell government: 'You must act now'


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French government clarifies post-Brexit rules on pets for second-home owners

Brexit hasn't just brought about changes in passport rules for humans, pets are also affected and now the French government has laid out the rules for pet passports for British second-home owners.

French government clarifies post-Brexit rules on pets for second-home owners

Pre-Brexit, people travelling between France and the UK could obtain an EU Pet Passport for their car, dog or ferret which ensured a hassle-free transport experience.

But since the UK left the EU things have become more complicated – and a lot more expensive – for UK residents wanting to travel to France with pets.

You can find a full breakdown of the new rules HERE, but the main difference for people living in the UK is that that they now need an Animal Health Certificate for travel.

Unlike the Pet Passport, a new ACH is required for each trip and vets charge around £100 (€118) for the certificate. So for people making multiple trips a year, especially those who have more than one pet, the charges can quickly mount up.

UK nationals who live in France can still benefit from the EU Pet Passport, but until now the situation for second-home owners has been a little unclear.

However the French Agriculture ministry has now published updated information on its website.

The rules state: “The veterinarian can only issue a French passport to an animal holding a UK/EU passport issued before January 1st, 2021, after verifying that the animal’s identification number has been registered in the Fichier national d’identification des carnivores domestiques (I-CAD).”

I-CAD is the national database that all residents of France must register their pets in – find full details HERE.

The ministry’s advice continues: “If not registered, the veterinarian may proceed to register the animal in I-CAD, if the animal’s stay in France is longer than 3 consecutive months, in accordance with Article 22 of the AM of August 1st, 2012 on the identification of domestic carnivores.”

So if you are staying in France for longer than 90 days (which usually requires a visa for humans) your pet can be registered and get a Pet Passport, but those staying less than three months at a time will have to continue to use the AHC.

The confusion had arisen for second-home owners because previously some vets had been happy to issue the Passport using proof of a French address, such as utility bills. The Ministry’s ruling, however, makes it clear that this is not allowed.

So here’s a full breakdown of the rules;

Living in France

If you are living in France full time your pet is entitled to an EU Pet Passport regardless of your nationality (which means your pet has more travel rights than you do. Although they probably still rely on you to drive the car/book the ferry tickets).

Your cat, dog or ferret must be fully up to date with their vaccinations and must be registered in the national pet database I-CAD (full details here).

Once issued, the EU Pet Passport is valid for the length of the animal’s life, although you must be sure to keep up with their rabies vaccinations. Vets in France usually charge between €50-€100 for a consultation and completing the Passport paperwork.

Living in the UK

If you are living in the UK and travelling to France (or the rest of the EU) you will need an Animal Health Certificate for your cat, dog or ferret.

The vaccination requirements are the same as for the EU Pet Passport, but an ACH is valid for only 10 days after issue for entry to the EU (and then for four months for onward travel within the EU).

So if you’re making multiple trips in a year you will need a new certificate each time.

UK vets charge around £100 (€118) for a certificate, although prices vary between practices. Veterinary associations in the UK are also warning of delays in issuing certificates as many people begin travelling again after the pandemic (often with new pets bought during lockdown), so you will need to book in advance. 

Second-home owners

Although previously some French vets had been happy to issue certificates with only proof of an address in France, the French government has now clarified the rules on this, requiring that pets be registered within the French domestic registry in order to get an EU Pet Passport.

This can only be done if the pet is staying in France for more than three months. The three months must be consecutive, not over the course of a year.

UK pets’ owners will normally require a visa if they want to stay in France for more than three months at a time (unless they have dual nationality with an EU country) – find full details on the rules for people HERE.