Brexit: No, France doesn’t want to inflict ‘maximum pain’ on Brits living here

Reports in the British press that France and its president Emmanuel Macron had concocted a bill that in the event of a no-deal Brexit would force British tourists to have visas to cross the Channel and "cause maximum pain" for UK nationals in France are wrong.

Brexit: No, France doesn't want to inflict 'maximum pain' on Brits living here

On Wednesday the press in Britain all jumped on reports that fist emerged on Twitter about the French government's draft bill that would be pushed through in the event of Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement

The bill was actually published on or shortly after October 3rd when the country's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau presented it to the cabinet.

So even though it was published two weeks ago it was presented in the British press on Wednesday as France ramping up the pressure on Theresa May just as she headed off to Brussels for a crucial EU summit on Wednesday.

“France was the first to ratchet up the tension yesterday, publishing guidance on the Senate website,” said the Daily Mail.

Whereas The Sun said: “France last night published their doomsday No Deal scenario planning just hours before Theresa May’s arrival at the EU Council.”

But the big problem with the reports wasn't only the mistaken timing of the bill's publication, it was the whole interpretation of the legislation.

Much of the bill laid out the factual and fairly dramatic consequences of a no-deal Brexit such as the fact Britons would become third country nationals and therefore need residency permits to be able to stay, visas to enter France and how companies could be in trouble if they employed British workers without the necessary permits.

But the legislation printed on the Senate's website was interpreted by some as what France intends to do if there's a no-deal.

The anti-Macron Daily Express headlined on: “Macron to introduce plans for UK tourists to need visas to visit France if no-deal exit”, while The Sun's Westminster Correspondent Harry Cole focused on the fact that British nationals in France would lose their automatic right to remain in France as EU citizens.

“An explosive draft law published in Paris seems designed to cause maximum pain to Brits living in France short of kicking them out,” wrote Cole, comparing the perceived plan to a very different statement by Theresa May “to automatically protect the rights of French people living in the UK.”

“Brits would automatically become third party nationals that bars them from holding jobs reserved for EU citizens and restrict their access to healthcare and welfare,” read The Sun's article as if France was planning to close hospitals to British patients after Brexit.

“If President Emmanuel Macron approves it Brits would be barred from jobs reserved for EU citizens as well as restrict healthcare and welfare.”

And this was the Metro's front page:

Emmanuel Macron's government has “proposed that Britain's living in France instantly be deemed illegal if there's no deal”, the paper said.

But it's simply not true.

The purpose of the French bill is actually to allow the French government to quickly pass decrees without debate in parliament in order to prevent upheaval to the lives of Brits living and working in France, tourists who just want to visit and to enable the ports to be able to cope with the extra checks on trucks that would need to be carried out.

The bill was not a list of threats from Paris designed to shock Theresa May into accepting the EU's offer of a deal.

It simply listed the real consequences of a no-deal (just as the UK government has been doing in recent weeks) on the rights of Brits to remain and work in France as well as the impact on their access to social welfare and health cover and importantly the areas where France would need to pass urgent legislation to deal with the resulting impact.

READ ALSO: What France's draft bill actually means for Brits living in France

France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau has already stated that Brits already living in France would be looked after in the event of a no deal. 

“We must make sure that in the absence of a deal on March 30, 2019, Britons living in France do not find themselves suddenly with irregular (immigration) status,” she added. 

Indeed the French bill states that Brits in France could be given more preferential treatment than third country nationals (citizens of EU member-states) following Brexit.

The Europe Minister reiterated that position in a Senate debate on Wednesday.

It's also worth pointing out that even if there is a deal it's like Brits will have to apply for a residency permits and are currently being urged to do so already by the British embassy and France's interior ministry.

The really important caveat is that the French government has repeatedly said that everything still depends on London and the future of Brits living in France will only be guaranteed if London acts likewise to protect the French living in the UK. Minister for Europe Nathalie Loiseau has said that the French citizens residing in the UK are the priority for Paris.

The bill states France would retain the right to cancel any decree it takes to allow Brits to stay legally in France if London does not put in place a similar measure.

But given that Theresa May has already stated this would happen it seems likely that in the event of no deal a bilateral agreement would be made between Paris and London to ensure each country's citizens can carry on with their lives almost as before.

One important point to add is that while this sounds like a safe fall-back option, campaigners are concerned about any reciprocal deal because if London downgrades the rights of EU citizens in Britain then Paris and other EU governments will do the same.

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 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.

A source close to France's Minister for Europe told The Local on Thursday they were surprised at the coverage in the British press, who had clearly mixed up the reasons for the bill with the legislation itself.

“The aim is certainly not to cause 'maximum pain' to Britons living in France in fact it's the exact opposite. We want to take action so they don't find themselves in an irregular position if there's no deal.

“However the French citizens in the UK are our priority so we would look for a reciprocal agreement if the main negotiations between London and Brussels fail.”

So while Brits in France and the French in the UK remain bargaining chips in the negotiations process, it's clear that France is not intent on ruining the lives of it's 150,000 British residents if there's a no-deal.





Member comments

  1. The Red Tops deal in lies and complete fabrication as was shown in the run up to the referendum. They, the gutter press, should be held accountable for the rubbish they print causing fear and misunderstanding. They are, to a great part, responsible for the current situation by siding with the likes of Farage, Johnson, Gove, etc and giving credence to the rubbish they touted before the referendum.

  2. It`s a well known, but sad fact, that a lie can travel around the world, and be believed, before the truth has got it’s running shoes on.
    The red tops are gutter press and distorters of the truth.
    Unfortunately the vocal majority of British xenophobics believe them and the truth does not fit with their stupid views.

  3. Years ago, a few of these “papers” were actually respected news-sheets with proper journalists working for them but now they seem to only employ children, that scourer the playgrounds of Twitter and Facebook looking for anything that justifies what they have written, then just cut & paste it.Unfortunately they don’t seem to have the brain power to actually check a story and their editors are just as guilty by sheer complacentry.

  4. This article states that “France is not intent on ruining the lives of it’s 150,000 British residents if there’s a no-deal”.
    But it also states that “The really important caveat is that the French government has repeatedly said that everything still depends on London and the future of Brits living in France will only be guaranteed if London acts likewise to protect the French living in the UK”.
    Then we read “Theresa May has already stated this would happen it seems likely that in the event of no deal a bilateral agreement would be made between Paris and London to ensure each country’s citizens can carry on with their lives almost as before”.
    What I understand from this article is simply that Macron will protect the Brits in France, IF May protects the French in Britain. And as we all know SHE’S A LIAR, we just have to hope she honours what she says.

  5. It was’t just the red-top gutter press that reported the matter in this way, the supposedly respectable broadsheets joined in. Nevertheless, setting this typical tabloid hysteria aside, it is true that a ‘no-deal’ exit is distinctly possible and that, if that happens, UK citizens living (either full-time or for part of the year) in any of the 27 who have not exercised their current EU citizen rights to take up official residence there will after Brexit revert to the status of ‘third country’ citizens. If they are still in France at that date they will be technically ‘undocumented’, that is without formal documented permission to be in the country and could, in theory at least, be arrested and deported, although this is unlikely in the immediate short term. If they leave France then they (as with any other UK visitor to France after 31/3/19) will need to have some kind of visa (either from the French embassy or the online all-Schengen system when/if it goes active later in 2019) if they return: either a tourist visa (cost €60) which allows 90 days total visit in any 180 day period (you’ll need one also for your three day Citybreak in Paris) – either a ‘single visit’ visa or a ‘circulatory’ visa which allows for repeated visits over any 180 day period. If you want to stay longer than this then you will need a long-stay visa (€90) for a year which then has to be validated at the local prefecture where you live. Taking out one of the latter means you also become fiscally resident in France and subject to French income tax (including capital gains tax and social charges of 37% if you cash in any share ISAs or SIPPs you have in the UK). Taking a train to Italy or Germany won’t help either as those 90 days cover being in any Schengen country not just France. The Remain in France website has an excellent discussion of the relevant issues. These dangers are real and people should make themselves aware of the issues.

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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.”