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BREXIT

Article 50: The fight against Brexit starts now, say Brits in France

With the UK government triggering Article 50 on Wednesday to begin its divorce from the EU, many say it’s time for the anti-Brexit brigade to give up the fight. But many pro-EU Brits in France say their battle is only just beginning.

Article 50: The fight against Brexit starts now, say Brits in France
Photo: AFP

After the referendum vote, the shock, the recriminations, the bitter arguments and accusations, the high court rulings and the failed amendments in parliament, the UK finally began its divorce proceedings from the EU on Wednesday.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May sent Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council official notice of the UK’s desire to take a step into the unknown by leaving the European Union, which it joined back in 1973.

For many, including Theresa May herself the momentous triggering of Article 50 should act as a signal for all those others who railed against the referendum result to lay down their arms and “unite” on the arduous journey that lies ahead.

But many Brits in France, who along with EU citizens living in the UK, stand the most to lose if Brexit negotiations turn sour, rejected her plea saying the fight is only just beginning.

Their message on Wednesday was “It's not over yet”.

“Today marks the end of the ‘phoney war’ and the beginning of a whole new Battle of Britain,” said Toulouse-based Ian Hayes-Fry from the Remain in France Together online community, that was set up after Brexit to fight for the rights of Brits in France.

Kalba Meadows, who runs the group and lives in the Ariege department of south west France added: “Today is the beginning and not the end. This is where the real fight starts. And now we have something to concrete to fight against.”

Remain in France Together is just one of several pressure groups that represents the hundreds of thousands of Britain living across the EU that have united to fight their corner since last June's referendum.

The group counts some 5,500 members and its chief aim, whatever Theresa May might say, is to prevent Brexit from happening.

Many believe now that Article 50 has been triggered and the fraught negotiations begin it will become clear that the UK is best served by remaining in the EU.

“I will never give up the fight,” said Sandra Jones. “This catastrophic decision by the governing party to go ahead with leaving the EU when there are no known benefits to the UK makes me very angry and anxious for the future.” 

Groups representing British citizens living in Europe are not ready to rely on Theresa May and the UK government to deliver  the best deal to protect their rights and have vowed to step up their campaigning.

“This is not the time to give up the fight against Brexit,” Christopher Chantrey, chairman of the British Community Committee of France told The Local.
 
“All we are hearing is the same old promises and pipe dreams. It is becoming clearer and clearer that no deal would be far worse than a bad deal – but nobody in government will say so. The struggle continues.
 
“British in Europe www.britishineurope.org, the coalition of a dozen or so UK citizens' groups in Europe is stepping up its lobbying efforts in London, Brussels and key member state capital cities.”
 
 

This week representatives of British in Europe met with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to press their case that the UK and Brussels must resolve the rights of Brits living in the EU and European citizens living in Britain.

So far the UK has withstood pressure to show the lead by guaranteeing the rights of those EU nationals living in Britain before negotiations began. Barnier suggested the limbo may go on until late 2018, by which time a deal will hopefully have been struck.

Other acts of resistance by Bremainers living in France and throughout the EU include signing numerous petitions including a vote of no confidence in Theresa May because of her handling of Brexit and one on the site Change.org titled Article 50 not in my name.

Letters have been written to Theresa May demanding that she guarantee health rights for British citizens abroad as well as pension uprating, which would prevent them from being frozens as they are in some for British nationals living in some countries.

“We can't stop voicing our opinions,” said Susan King-Bradshaw. “So much depends on what deals are going to be made such as our rights to stay in a country which we legally moved to. How can we become illegals when we have done nothing wrong. I will be fighting for the rights of my family, my children, two of whom were born in France.”

Brits in the EU are also being asked to write personally to Donald Tusk to give him notice of their dissent against Article 50.

The standard letter reads: “As a British national and citizen of the EU, I hereby notify the Council of my dissent from and objections to this act of the British government. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not consent to being deprived of my European Citizenship.”

 

“Contrary to its claim, the British government does not have a democratic mandate from the people of the UK to leave the EU,” the letter to Tusk reads.

One of the many bones of contention opponents of Brexit have with Britain leaving the EU is that they believe the referendum was not democratic, because many long term expats were denied the vote and they also claim voters were misinformed and lied to, pointing to the famous claim by Brexiteers that the UK would save £350 million by leaving the EU could then be given to the NHS.

“Now the Brexiteers will start to find out that this is not going to be easy and the impact of any type of Brexit will negatively affect them. That the lies told to win their votes will be exposed,” said Emily Trefier from RIFT.

So while the Daily Mail and Brexiteers may have been celebrating “Freedom” on Wednesday as though the battle had been won, peace is unlikely to be declared anytime soon. 

 

 

 

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READER QUESTIONS

Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Over the summer people living in France have received their tax bills, and some Brits who are residents here will have noticed that their bill is larger than usual - here's why.

Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Brits who live in France and make a tax declaration here, but have income from the UK, may have noticed that their tax bill has increased this year – here’s why and whether you can challenge the increase. 

Brexit

Yes, this is Brexit related and it refers to social charges on non-French income. The standard rate for these charges are 7.5 percent for income from an EU country and 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country.

The tax bills received over the summer relate to the annual French tax declaration filed in April 2022, covering the 2021 tax year. In other words, the first year after the end of the Brexit transition period.

Social charges

Social charges are levies with a social purpose introduced in France in the 1990s to finance the country’s complex social security system.

If you have a French payslip you will already be familiar with them, and they actually make up the bulk of deductions from salaries, significantly more than income tax.

READ ALSO How to understand your French payslip

One of the big questions is whether France’s social charges are actually a ‘tax’ – the government repeatedly insists they’re not, for all that they look like a tax and are paid like a tax. 

The position on French social charges has changed several times in recent years, sometimes in response to court action all centred on whether this money that government deducts from your income can be called a ‘tax’ or not.

Katey Murray, at The Spectrum IFA Group, explained: “Article 29 of the amended Finance law of 2012 extended social charges to rental income from French properties and capital gains on properties for people who are not French tax resident.

“In 2015, a Dutch national challenged the fact that he was paying social charges in France and social security contributions in the Netherlands. The case went before the ECJ, which ruled these levies were similar to social security contributions and therefore contrary to European law.”

France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, confirmed the ECJ’s ruling. “French tax offices then, if a claim was made to them, reimbursed undue social charges,” Murray said.

“However, the French Government stated that these claims could only be made by someone covered for their healthcare by the system of another European country (EU, EEA or Switzerland) and not someone covered by a non-European health system. 

“This was confirmed by the ECJ for a French national living in China in a case in January 2018.”

Foreigners in France

And it’s this ‘healthcare system’ distinction that has become the key detail for Brits in France, clarified by a court ruling from March 2022 on the details of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. 

Social charges are currently set at 7.5 percent for income from an EU country, or 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country. So income from the UK jumped to the higher rate at the end of the Brexit transition period.

However the ECJ ruling on healthcare cover is the key bit – essentially if you are already contributing to another European country’s social security system, you benefit from the lower rate.

This mainly affects two groups – Brits living in the UK (and therefore covered by the NHS) who have income in France, and Brits who are living in France and who have an S1, which states that their healthcare costs are covered by the NHS.

S1 holders are mainly British pensioners living in France, but the scheme can also apply to other groups including students and posted workers. 

Brits who are living in France and are covered by the French health system pay the higher rate on income from the UK. 

Technically the 7.5 percent rate is a ‘social levy’ rather than the prélèvements sociaux.

The ‘social levy’ is not charged on pensions, so if you are an S1 holder who receives a British pension, you will not have to pay any social charges at all, while certain types of property income may also be exempt from social charges.

Tax

As we stated above, social charges are not a tax (although they are deducted from your income by the tax office).

Taxes on income from the UK is covered by the bilateral dual-taxation treaty between France and the UK, which states that you don’t have to pay tax in France on income that you have already paid tax on in the UK. 

So the first thing to check on your tax bill is whether deductions relate to impôt (tax) or prélèvements sociaux (social charges).

Challenge your tax bill

So what to do if you think you have been incorrectly charged on income from the UK?

If you are an S1 holder, it’s a case of telling the tax office that you benefit from the lower 7.5 percent social levy, rather than the 17.2 percent social charge.

Murray said: “You can state that you are not subject to social charges by ticking boxes 8SH/8SI on your tax form (2042 form) or, if you have been charged at the higher rate, you can claim them back on your personal page on the impots.gouv.fr website.”

If the over-charge relates to a different issue – for example you have been charged both tax and the social charge or charged on exempt income – your first step is talking to the tax office, either in person or over the phone.

READ ALSO How to challenge your French tax bill

This article is a general overview of the tax rules and is not intended as a substitute for financial advice, if your financial affairs are complicated you are always better off getting professional help from an accountant who specialises in international taxation.

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