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BREXIT

‘You are a priority’: France tries to reassure Britons over Brexit

France's Europe Minister tried to reassure Britons living in France on Wednesday telling them that they were a "priority" for the French government and that in the case of a no deal Brexit they will be given enough time to secure their status.

'You are a priority': France tries to reassure Britons over Brexit
Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, who is leading France's preparations for a no-deal Brexit, told The Local that France will help Britons secure their status in France.
 
The French government is currently passing a bill that would allow them to pass laws by decree to avoid the huge number of problems, including those for Britons in the country and the probable chaos at the borders, if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal.
 
“They (British citizens) are a priority,” Loiseau told The Local but said London must show they see the French in the UK in the same way.
 
“The fact we have dedicated one whole chapter of this bill to the status of Britons living in France shows how important they are to us.
 
“It shows that we want them to stay. We want them to be able to work, study or be retired here.
 
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“We will make our best possible efforts to make sure that if there's a no-deal their situation will remain as positive as it is today. But we need precise assurances from the British authorities on our fellow French citizens. That of course is my responsibility as a member of the government.”
 
The minister said she could not give details yet on what Britons will have to do to secure their status in France if there's a no deal saying “various options were being explored”.
 
She said French authorities would be “as open and as generous as possible” in securing the status of Britons in France.
 
“We are working on the case of a transitory period which will allow people to remain in France so they can complete their procedures.”
 
The minister said she would not give a concrete time limit for how long that period of grace would be.
 
The minister gave evidence on Wednesday morning to the special parliamentary commission set up to examine the impact of a no-deal Brexit and the government's bill to deal with the predicted chaos.
 
Loiseau said that French local authorities would be given the capacity to be able to deal with the huge demand that would arise from British applicants.
 
She also said that local authorities around France had been made aware of the “special interest” Britons have in applying for French nationality.
 
She suggested that those local authorities should look at applications from Britons in a favorable light given Brexit is approaching.
 
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Emotion and relief: How Brits in France feel to have secured their futures amid Brexit anxiety
Photo: AFP
 
“We explained why these applications should be considered with openness,” she told The Local.
 
Loiseau also stressed that one of the constraints on France was that EU governments had been instructed by the chief negotiator in Brussels Michel Barnier not to negotiate any agreement with the UK that is better than what is in the deal on the table.
 
But she did say the France could offer Britons the equivalent rights to what are listed in the withdrawal agreement as long as there is reciprocity from the UK.
 
The French government is encouraging Britons to apply for a carte de sejour residency permit to help avoid any post Brexit rush whether or not there is a deal.
 
Many Britons are worried about for applying for fear they don't have enough income to prove they are self-sufficient. They fear being turned down and as a result asked to leave the country, which has already reportedly happened to one elderly Briton.
 
Those same fears will only be increased after Brexit and Loiseau told The Local that the government would look closely at the issue but added a warning.
 
“This is the case for citizens of all third countries. We have to make sure that they have sufficient means to stay in the country,” she said.
 
France is pushing ahead with its preparations for a no-deal given that as Loiseau said herself there is severe doubt over whether the deal on the table will be ratified by the British parliament.
 
Loiseau told French lawmakers there was no doubt that Brexit was “bad news for both the UK and the EU.”

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BRITS IN EUROPE

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.

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