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Brexit: Brits in France urged to get clued up about their rights

The tens of thousands of Brits in France who might have their heads in the sand over the impact of Brexit, whether out of fear or a lack of understanding, are being urged to get informed about their citizen rights and what they need to do. Kalba Meadows from the Remain in France Together (RIFT) group explains.

Brexit: Brits in France urged to get clued up about their rights
Photo: AFP

Worried about your rights after Brexit? About what happens if there is no deal? You are not alone. 

Research tells us that uncertainty is more stressful than pain, and that knowing that something bad is going to happen is better than not knowing whether it is going to happen or not. The higher the level of uncertainty, the more stress we experience.

Nobody knows that better than we do, the British people living in France and the rest of the EU. Over 26 months after the referendum, we still don’t know what our futures hold for us and what rights we’ll keep, or lose. And we feel forgotten … there have been no real attempts by either the UK or the EU to reach out to us with information, advice or just simple reassurance or empathy.

That job has been left to voluntary groups like ours, Remain in France Together, which now has over 10,000 members all over France. We’re a founder member of the coalition British in Europe which represents and advocates for the 1.3 million British people who’ve settled in another EU country.

But 10,000, impressive though it sounds, is just the tip of the Brits in France iceberg: official figures put us at around 151,000, though in reality there are probably far more.

The trouble is that France is unique amongst EU27 countries in that it doesn’t require those from other EU countries to register for residence, or even report their presence. So nobody really knows who, or how many, or where, we are.

Nice though it’s been to avoid the administrative paperchase that our British friends in, say, Spain or Belgium have to go through when they arrive, to be frank it now leaves us a bit up the proverbial gum tree.

Because most of us here have no official evidence of the fact that we’re resident at all, or even that our rights here might be at risk in a no deal scenario.

READ ALSO: The common questions about getting a carte de séjour


Carte de séjour: The common questions about French residency permits you need answering

Information is power

Remain in France Together has just launched a new outreach project, with the aim of reaching people who are out of the loop – not on social media, not in regular communication with other Brits, those who are vulnerable or perhaps just too fearful to think ahead to what may happen.

Our 10-strong citizens’ rights team knows that 'out there' are very many people who have their heads in the sand – out of lack of understanding, out of fear, or because they’re so stressed they’re simply paralysed, like a rabbit in a headlight.

We can’t provide certainty, because there isn’t any. But we can provide information, answer questions, and offer support. We can tell you what you can do to put yourself in the best position to face whatever the next months might bring.

We can help you make sure you have all your ducks in a row to apply for your carte de séjour, either now or after Brexit. We can give you the most up to date information on the state of play in the negotiations. And more.

READ ALSO:Why Brits in France should apply for a carte de séjour right now

If you’re out and about over the next few weeks, we hope you’ll stumble upon this leaflet pinned up in your local supermarket, bar or café. If you haven’t seen one near you, perhaps you’d be willing to help by printing some and putting them up  – you can find out more and print them out from this page:

You can find a wealth of information on other pages of our website; over the next few months we’ll be writing regularly for The Local too.

We warmly welcome new members – it’s free to join either our newsletter list or our Facebook group – while our website is there for anyone and everyone. We’ve got some tough times and some crucial months ahead, but together we are stronger.

Kalba Meadows is citizens’ rights coordinator of the group Remain in France Together, and a member of the steering committee of British in Europe.


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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”