‘Double disaster’: Brits in France left furious over UK’s Brexit deal on citizens’ rights

While the British Prime Minister Theresa May was celebrating reaching a deal with the EU over Brexit, British citizens living in France and the EU felt betrayed.

'Double disaster': Brits in France left furious over UK's Brexit deal on citizens' rights

After months of fraught Brexit negotiations British Prime Minister Theresa May heralded an agreement with the European Commission on Friday that covered three thorny issues: the Irish border, the divorce settlement and citizens' rights.

The “hard won” agreement allows the British government and Brussels to move Brexit negotiations onto trade talks.

The initial deal brought smiles to the face of May, who was probably in danger of losing her job if talks had broken down again, but left British citizens living in France and other EU countries less than happy.

While the deal guarantees their rights to remain and work in France (although that was never really in doubt) the agreement does not guarantee them the right to continue moving freely around Europe, as is the case currently.

In the small print of the agreement it says the issue of freedom of movement was “outside the scope” of the initial negotiations, meaning the rights of Brits living in France to be able to move and work freely in other EU countries may depend on how trade negotiations go.

The group British in Europe, which represents the 1.2 million British citizens living in the EU accused the government of “negotiating away our rights” and said “the deal was even worse than expected”.

British in Europe's chair Jane Golding described it as a” double disaster”.

'We are bigger bargaining chips than before'

Kalba Meadows who runs the group Remain in France Together, which is linked to British in Europe told The Local: “This is far worse than we were expecting and hoping for and leaves us as greater bargaining chips than before, as freedom of movement and our other outstanding issues have to jostle with the issue of trade.

“Continuing freedom of movement has been deemed 'out of scope' – and yet this is so important for so many of our members.

“This isn't about the ability to visit friends in another country or pop over the border to do your shopping – many British people in France rely on freedom of movement for their livelihoods and without it they risk being unable to provide for their families.”

Another member of RIFT Craig McGinty added: “Some may have thought the battle was over, but it looks like the fight is still on. The issue of freedom of movement is going to be caught up in the second round of talks, meaning our rights could be tied up in agreements on how many widgets pass though Dover.

“Many of us have always feared it was always our rights May was gambling with and a key part looks to have been cast to one side,” he added.

'Yet more uncertainty for Brits in France'

While the future of Brits already living in France is secure, the agreement sets up the likelihood that they will have to apply for a residency permit to obtain “settled status”.

While each country has the right to decide whether to implement the scheme, the likelihood is if Britain sets up a residency card scheme for EU nationals living in the EU, France and other EU countries are likely to do the same.

That would give Brits in France two years from the official Brexit date to apply for settled status. It is likely that anyone who has a carte de sejour residency permit will be able to convert it into “settled status”.

“I think most UK people in France accept that some sort of residency paper is going to be required, EU citizens in the UK are going to face similar,” McGinty told The Local.

“And the authorities will need to have a record of who was here before whatever day Brexit is, here's hoping it is simple and not expensive to apply for.”

But for RIFT's Kalba Meadows, the agreement just throws up yet more uncertainty for Brits living in France.

“We don't know of course whether France would want to implement it, and it would obviously depend on the political will and situation – but the fact that this deal opens it up as a possibility is really disturbing, and just creates another level of uncertainty for Brits in France,” Meadows told The Local.


‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work.