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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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Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.