As we inch inexorably closer to 29th March 2019 and watch in despair the seeming inability of the UK to move towards agreement with the EU, the talk of Brits living in France is unsurprisingly turning to this question: what happens to us if there's no deal?
I doubt there's a single one of us who seriously considered, in June 2016, that we'd be in this situation; who could even imagine that our rights – citizens' rights … human rights – could be the collateral damage of Brexit? But here we are, and while we're all still hoping (and many of us are working) for the best, we have to start preparing for the worst. In this article and the next, we'll look at what a ‘no deal' scenario means for us, and how we can put ourselves in the best possible situation should the worst happen.
Where are we now?
There are several possible scenarios in the relationship between the UK and the EU and hence to our citizens' rights.
Scenario 1. The current Withdrawal Agreement is agreed by both EU and UK before 29 March 2019
A bit of a curate's egg. Many of our current rights would be retained (details here if you haven't yet caught up), but in our host country only. Other rights are omitted, continuing free movement across the EU27 being the most important. But there would be a transition period of 21 months, up to 31 December 2020, during which all our current rights would remain unchanged.
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Scenario 2. There is no ratified Withdrawal Agreement, but the UK and the EU both agree to honour the clauses on citizens' rights so that they form a legally binding treaty (‘ring-fencing')
The best of the ‘no deal ‘scenarios, but still subject to all the shortcomings in the Withdrawal Agreement, and effective from 30 March 2019 as there would be no transition period.
Scenario 3. No ratified Withdrawal Agreement, no ring-fencing, but France decides unilaterally to honour the rights contained in the citizens' rights part
It would need to introduce new national legislation providing for a totally new status for already-resident British citizens which included the same or similar rights as provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. There are already special régimes for certain populations – some Algerians, for instance. However (and it's a big however), unilateral guarantees won't fully work as many of the important issues - reciprocal health care for example - would have to be resolved reciprocally between the UK and the EU27.
Scenario 4: No Withdrawal Agreement, no ring-fencing, no unilateral arrangement.
This is the classic ‘no deal' scenario. At 11pm CET on 29 March 2019, we would lose our status as European citizens and become third country nationals with no preserved rights. Our rights going forward would in no way be comparable to those that we hold at the moment and we'd have to fit into the existing framework for third country nationals in France, which is a complex mixture of EU directives and national legislation.
Some of the aspects of our rights in France that may be affected in the absence of other arrangements:
Our residence status. All our rights to reside as EU citizens would fall away with immediate effect and we would become third country nationals (TCNs) - non EU citizens, or étrangers - overnight.
Residence cards would be compulsory and applications would no longer be free.
Minimum income levels required for legal residence for those who aren't economically active could increase and even those who ARE economically active could be subject to minimum income.
Reciprocal health care. S1s and EHICs issued by the UK to S1 holders could cease to be valid; without other arrangements S1 holders would have to re-join the health system via PUMa. As TCNs a carte de séjour or carte de résidence is necessary to benefit from French health cover
The right to work. Third country nationals require a carte de séjour or carte de résidence to be able to work in France. Some jobs are only open to EU citizens and the right to work may be restrictive.
Cross-border working and living becomes very much more complicated; the same goes for self-employment/provision of services/recognition of professional qualifications.
Payment of private or personal pensions from the UK may be affected by the falling away of passporting rights.
UK driving licences would cease to be valid in the EU without an International Driving Permit.
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This is all rather depressing and discouraging for us whose lives are on hold, but we think it's better to know what we could be up against in a worst case scenario so that we can be prepared should the worst happen. Our group, Remain in France Together, along with the coalition organisation British in Europe (of which we're a member), continue to put everything we have (plus a bit more!) into this ‘last mile' of defending all the rights that we've enjoyed as proud Europeans. And who knows … Brexit may even yet be abandoned, in which case we get to breathe 1.2 million large sighs of relief and live happily ever after!
But just in case, in the next article for The Local we'll give you some practical hints and tips of how to make some personal preparations for a no deal scenario.
You can read more about the implications of a no deal scenario for Brits in France here: https://www.remaininfrance.org/nodeal.html
Kalba Meadows is citizens' rights coordinator of the group Remain in France Together, and a member of the steering committee of British in Europe.