52 days until Brexit and Brits in France still have unanswered questions

With just over 50 days until Brexit Day worried Britons in France are still bombarding their ambassador with questions, writes The Local's Evie Burrows-Taylor.

52 days until Brexit and Brits in France still have unanswered questions
Photo: The Local
The event comes at a time of extreme uncertainty for many Britons in France, with Britain's departure from the EU looming and a no deal scenario, which once seemed far-fetched, looking increasingly likely. 
At the last outreach meeting in Paris back in December 2017 Ambassador Ed Llewellyn was subjected to angry recriminations by the Britons who attended who seemed to blame him personally for Brexit, with one woman accusing the embassy of having a “cavalier attitude” when it came to establishing the rights of expats in France
This time the embassy seemed to be taking the meeting very seriously, holding a media briefing beforehand with the British envoy, which it turns out, only The Local attended. 
Llewellyn described it as “a difficult time” for people and that he and his team were trying to offer “some reassurance” with the 42 events they have held over the past two years. 
These events, he said, will continue after Britain's planned departure from the EU on March 29th.
Llewellyn also stressed that he and his team want Britons in France to continue contacting them if they need help with Brexit matters in France. 
“The embassy can engage in situations with the French authorities if necessary and has already done so on several occasions,” he said. 
After the briefing it was time for the ambassador to head down into the 'gladiatorial pit' to face the crowd at the fully booked event, which was the third of its kind to take place in the French capital. 
But while it seemed tempers were likely to flare once again with tensions heightened as Brexit Day fast approaches, the atmosphere was somewhat more subdued than last time. 
The change in mood could be down to the fact that the embassy has been touring the country for nearly two years, reaching those who are set to be most directly affected by the UK's impending divorce from Europe. 
Also, it could be partly due to the very active role citizens' rights groups, such as Remain in France Together and British in Europe have played in fighting for the rights of Britons living in France and across Europe. 
These groups have lobbied and cajoled the British government in an effort to protect the rights Britons have been able to take for granted as citizens of an EU state. 
French parliament begins debating no-deal Brexit bill
Photo: AFP
Nevertheless, though the atmosphere may have been calmer at Monday night's event there were still around 250 people with very specific concerns about their personal situation that they still felt had not been remedied during the negotiations. 
Questions over rights to healthcare, onward freedom of movement and whether Britons who have been living in France for more than 15 years would have the right to vote in the case of a second EU referendum dominated the event, along with questions about how and when to get a French driving license. 
For example one woman was concerned that her cancer treatment would be postponed because she is not currently paying into the French tax system due to being unemployed — she was assured it would not be.  
Another Briton in France asked whether the fees for his child's school would increase dramatically once they were no longer EU citizens (who receive more favourable rates) — he was told they won't… yet. 
And still another wondered if his exams to qualify as a civil servant in France will still be relevant in the case of a no deal and whether he will be able to re-take them if he fails.  
Just 52 days until Britain's planned departure from the EU and there are still no concrete answers to this young man's questions, like those of many others raised on Monday night.
The embassy's events are clearly popular and welcomed by Britons in France but this does not detract from the fact that tens of thousands of Britons in France and across Europe, are still living in limbo. 

Member comments

  1. I am not entirely sure how ex-pats can hold the UK embassy and the ambassador hostage to government policy (or the lack thereof). It is one thing to hold them to account for extant process, and to make them aware of the strength of feeling, but it is well beyond their purview to expect them to predict just what either the UK or the French government will do, given the compete lack of certainty over what, if anything, will have been agreed by 29 March.

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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.