Britons in France have been waiting on tenterhooks to find out what their status will be if what many consider the worst case Brexit scenario — a no-deal exit — comes to pass.
On January 17th the French government said they would be publishing five decrees covering preparations for a no-deal Brexit, with one dedicated to the rights of Britons living in France.
The decree was approved on Wednesday and a summary published, with more details set to appear on Thursday.
Here's what we know so far.
– Britons living in France will have one year to get a non-EU citizen carte de séjour, or residence permit
During this period, the rights of British nationals will be maintained in terms of residence, working rights and access to benefits.
Those who already have a permanent carte de séjour as an EU citizen will be able to swap it for a long-term resident non-EU citizen one.
– Healthcare: The decree ensures that Britons living in France will continue to receive the same healthcare coverage for two years after Britain leaves the EU. This includes conditions that take into account periods of insurance or employment in the United Kingdom.
– Benefits: The decree says that British nationals who receive the Revenu de solidarité active (RSA) – social welfare aimed at helping those on low wages – will continue to do so for one year after Britain leave the European Union
– Several measures included in the decree relate to Britons working in France.
British nationals will have to inform their employers as soon as they receive their first residence permit issued after the UK leaves the EU. This permit will allow them to continue working.
The government has specified that the rights laid out in the decree all rely on the condition of reciprocity, meaning that the UK must offer French citizens living in Britain the same protection.
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.
Published: 1 February 2023 17:31 CET
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.
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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