Brexit: Why French offer of reciprocal rights might worry Brits in France

An announcement by the French government that they would ensure Britons can remain in France if there's a no-deal Brexit was greeted with relief by some but many UK nationals and campaign groups have been left concerned. They are demanding an alternative option.

Brexit: Why French offer of reciprocal rights might worry Brits in France
UK's Brexit Minister Dominic Raab meets France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau. Photo: AFP

At first glance the words of France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau on Wednesday were reassuring to the estimated 150,000 Britons living in France.

“We must make sure that in the absence of a deal on March 30th, 2019, Britons living in France do not find themselves suddenly with irregular (immigration) status,” said Loiseau after unveiling draft legislation to prepare for a possible no-deal Brexit.

While no one really thought French authorities would be herding British residents towards the Channel ports on March 30th if there was a no-deal Brexit, the minister's words will still have come as some relief to the thousands who have been living in a state of anxiety since the referendum result.

But then the minister went on to explain exactly what the French government's position would be and the French government's plan became less comforting.

“We want to reach the best situation possible with a view to – and that is quite normal – working in a spirit of parallelism and reciprocity between the status we'll give UK residents in France and the status given to EU citizens in the UK,” Loiseau told reporters on Wednesday.

In other words France is seeking a “reciprocal” agreement whereby London and Paris would treat each others' expat citizens equally, the minister said.

And a statement sent out by the Elysée made it clear that Paris would wait to see how Theresa May's Conservative government will act to protect French nationals in the UK before it reciprocates the move. 

“The Government will take appropriate measures relating to the situation of British nationals in France. It will take account of the status granted by the United Kingdom to our nationals on its territory,” read the statement.

Which is why many Britons in France are concerned. Some raised those worries on Twitter.

“Reciprocal has become a very scary word indeed,” said Gary Brown.

Peter Timmins added: “This sounds good until you realise that if the PM shafts the French in the UK, the French intend to reciprocate.”

The word “reciprocal” worries Brits in France because it leaves the ball in the UK's court. 

All will depend on what rights the British government choose to grant EU citizens already in the UK and with the Tory government seemingly in endless turmoil over Brexit it's still unclear what those terms will be if there is no amicable divorce between Britain and the EU.

In a speech last month the UK Prime Minister moved to reassure the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK “who will understandably be worried”.

“I want to be clear with you that even in the event of no deal your rights will be protected. You are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. We want you to stay,” she said without giving any further details.

May's assurances were welcomed and it is believed EU citizens in the UK will be allowed to apply for settled status even n the even it a no-deal but with just months to go before B-Day,  EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals around the EU still have nothing in law that guarantees their status.

The fact that relations between London and Brussels have become increasingly fraught and fractious to the point where talks have reached an impasse has only added to all the uncertainty.

Which is why there are growing calls for the citizens rights section of Britain's draft withdrawal agreement from the EU, that was agreed on last December be “ring-fenced” and made law.

Kalba Meadows, from the Remain in France Together Campaign group told The Local: “The only moral and secure outcome for our rights and those of EU citizens in the UK in the case of no deal is a legally binding, ring fenced citizens' rights agreement.

“There is more and more support for this now – Manfred Weber, chair of the influential EPP group of MEPs, pronounced for this.

“So while I welcome the statement from the French council of ministers, we will be continuing to press for a ring-fenced agreement, legally binding under international law. 

“There is already a draft agreement that could be honoured even if the rest of the deal failed, and it would show that both sides really did care about people before politics,” she said.

The campaign groups British in Europe and the “3million” which represents EU nationals in the UK have also urged London and Brussels to act by ring-fencing the current citizens' rights agreement.

“Enough is enough, we need legal certainty now, and we ask you to do the right thing by providing it,” British in Europe said.

“You jointly have it within your powers to end this nightmare immediately for over 4 million of us.”

That draft withdrawal agreement gives Brits already in France and those that move here before Brexit Day the right to remain and work. It also guarantees them health cover and that their pensions will be uprated. 

However it does not grant them onward freedom of movement to other EU countries, which will leave many “landlocked” in France an could significantly impact the lives of those whose jobs require them to move regularly.

But in the current state of play ring-fencing this agreement is seen as a far better option for Britons in France and around the EU than member states such as France promising “reciprocal” action.

Member comments

  1. My experience in applying for a Permis de Séjour was a three month wait for my first appointment. Then told to come back in five months with copies of the last five years Avis d’Imposition. Eight months for something which should have taken a few weeks and it’s not finished yet. Who knows what they will ask for during my next visit. I believe that all this is either simply a stalling tactic or gross inefficiency.

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.