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Brexit: Brits in France must start preparing for the worst

In June 2016 Brits living in France would never have imagined being in the situation they are now as "Brexit Day" approaches, but while many still hope for the best it's time to start preparing for the worst, argues Kalba Meadows, the coordinator of the Remain in France together campaign group.

Brexit: Brits in France must start preparing for the worst
Photo: Deposit photos

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.


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.



The worries of being a Brit in France as a no-deal Brexit looms large

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:

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.”