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BREXIT

‘It’s better than no deal’: Do Brits in Europe hope Theresa May wins Brexit vote?

A momentous vote will take place in the British parliament on Tuesday when Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal is put to an MPs vote. British citizens living in Europe are torn over whether or not to back the agreement that would preserve most of their rights, but confirm the UK's exit from the EU.

'It's better than no deal': Do Brits in Europe hope Theresa May wins Brexit vote?
British MPs in the House of Commons await the result of crucial vote linked to Brexit. Photo: AFP

On Tuesday, the House of Commons, the UK’s lower house, will vote on what is probably the most important parliamentary vote in Britain this century.

If MPs approve Theresa May’s 585-page Brexit deal, the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU will have been broadly defined.

In such a scenario, May’s Conservative government could yet survive to lead the next phase of negotiations with the bloc after March 2019 and Brits in the EU will have retained most of the rights they currently enjoy, although some crucial ones will be lost.

Should parliament reject the terms of the deal, four potential outcomes look likely. The prime minister could try and negotiate a new deal (unlikely, given that the EU has said this is not an option); the UK electorate could be given a second chance to vote on Brexit (broadly termed a People’s Vote); or Britain could leave the EU without a deal on March 29th. A rejection of the deal could also lead to a general election in the UK.

While PM Theresa May doesn't appear to have enough support it's still impossible to tell which way the vote will go because of the division among political parties in Westminster.

Britons living in the European Union, among those groups most affected by Brexit, are equally split about whether to support the deal. 

READ ALSO: 'You are a priority': France tries to reassure Britons over Brexit

If the Withdrawal Agreement is approved, the rights of Brits to remain indefinitely in their host country would be secured, as would their index-linked pensions, healthcare cover and the right to study.

But those rights would be landlocked: Brits in the EU now look certain to lose the right to onward freedom of movement throughout the bloc.

Their right to vote in local elections also hangs in the balance. That is why many Brits are still hoping for a People’s Vote and potentially no Brexit at all.

So what should they wish for when the result of the MPs vote is announced on December 11th?

“I'm sure everyone realises that it's an impossible choice,” said Kalba Meadows, chair of Remain in France Together (RIFT) – the French branch of British in Europe, the grassroots pan-European campaign group for the rights of Brits in Europe.

“Vote for, and it preserves most of our rights under the Withdrawal Agreement – but …. Vote against, and you risk a no deal. Everyone will have a different view on that. It's a moral maze, and for us the question of voting for or against the deal should be a kind of 'free vote', up to each member,” added Meadows.

And Britons living in the EU were certainly making up their own minds. The fact they will lose onward free movement if the deal goes through was the reason many hope it gets voted down.

June, a retired Briton who has been living in Germany for more than a decade said: “Many British in the EU have cross-border jobs. This means being in two EU countries on a regular basis. Freedom of movement is essential.”

Jan Glover, a Briton living in France for the last 11 years agrees.

“The Withdrawal Agreement also has a lot of uncertainty and total lack of guarantees for UK citizens living in the EU who rely on freedom of movement to work and also for those with businesses who rely on cross border services arrangements. That makes Mrs May's deal a very bad one,” Glover told The Local.

Other Brits however are wary of the deal being rejected, seeing it as the best of all evils.

READ ALSO: Theresa May blasted for lauding the end of free movement for Britons across EU

“If there is going to be a Brexit then for us UK citizens living in the EU May's deal is a good one,” said Robert Neil, a British resident of Crete, Greece. “It has lots of certainty and guarantees unlike a no deal. A no deal could be a disaster.”

Others see rejecting the deal as the first step towards positive change.

“No deal will hurt a lot of people, but it will be short and sharp and will precipitate change,” Jez Thomas, a Briton based in Brussels, told The Local.

Paul Hearn, a Briton based in France said: “My hope is that Parliament will stop Brexit, soon after voting against the proposed deal, adding that “a People’s Vote is the only fallback position.” Hearn condemns the binary choice being offered to the UK’s parliament.

Clarissa Killwick, a founding member of Brexpats Hear Our Voice and a member of British in Italy, agrees Brits are essentially caught between a rock and a hard place.

“I see ‘no deal’ as the worst possible scenario, and then any kind of deal as the second worst scenario,” Killwick, who would prefer a second referendum, told The Local.

Yet she warns that a People’s Vote could also be a source of frustration for many Britons in Europe given that many would be excluded from the vote, as they were in the first referendum.

As the law currently stands, British citizens who have been resident outside of the UK for longer than 15 years are no longer eligible to vote – they are disenfranchised.

“I think it would be totally tragic for the UK to go ahead with this without an opportunity to reflect. A People's Vote would seem fair but once again many of us will most likely be disenfranchised because of the 15-year rule. I haven't heard any noises that EU citizens in the UK would be permitted to vote or 16 and 17-year-olds. So my fear is a People's Vote would not be democratic enough,” says Killwick.

The Overseas Electors Bill, known as the Vote for Life bill, is seeking to change this, but that amendment is unlikely to become law in time for the between 1.2 million and 3.6 million Brits in Europe to vote in any additional referendum on Brexit.

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In a recent poll of The Local's readers the vast majority of respondents favoured having a second referendum, believing it is the right thing to do given that voters now know what kind of Brexit is on the table.

But many are aware there was a risk of stirring up yet more division only to end up with the same result.

For the moment Britons across the EU can only watch on at the momentous event taking place in the UK, just like they have had to do since the shock referendum result.

READ MORE: 'Brits in France are victims of Brexit' – French senator vows to fight for UK citizens

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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