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BREXIT

EU ready to give UK more guarantees on Brexit: Barnier

The European Union is prepared to give Britain further Brexit guarantees to help a divorce deal through the British parliament, the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said in an interview published Saturday.

EU ready to give UK more guarantees on Brexit: Barnier
Michel Barnier at a session of the EU parliament in Brussels. Photo: AFP

“We can find guarantees to confirm, clarify, guarantee the goodwill and good faith of the Europeans with commitments which would have real legal force,” Barnier said in comments published in several European newspapers including Die Welt in Germany and Les Echos in France.

Barnier also suggested European leaders would be amenable to a short “technical” delay in Britain's departure from the EU, scheduled for March 29th, to give the British parliament time to formally ratify a final divorce deal.

The British parliament rejected the original Brexit deal hammered out by Prime Minister Theresa May and EU leaders.

The major sticking point was the so-called “backstop” plan for the Irish border. Some MPs fear the arrangement, which would keep Britain tied to EU trade rules until another way is found to keep the frontier open, is a “trap” that could bind it to European commerce rules indefinitely.

Barnier said there was “misunderstanding” over the proposed backstop deal.

“Limiting it in time or introducing a unilateral exit clause would call into question its credibility,” the EU's top Brexit negotiator insisted.

The backstop “will end either when we have a global agreement on the future relationship, or a specific agreement with Ireland,” he said, assuring it “was never the wish” to bind Britain to European trade rules indefinitely.

Barnier said he would Britain's Brexit minister Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox next week to discuss options.

A Brussels source said those talks could take place in the Belgian capital on Tuesday.

“There is a way that the British (parliament) could vote, between now and March 12th, with these guarantees of our good faith, It will be up to them to fulfil their responsibilities,” Barnier said.

In 2017, Britain invoked Article 50 of EU law, triggering a two-year countdown to Brexit that ends at 11pm on March 29th.

The country is on course to leave without an agreement after British MPs in January overwhelmingly rejected the divorce deal May struck with the EU late last year.

The embattled leader is now seeking changes to the pact which she hopes will be enough to get it through parliament by March 12th.

In a revised strategy unveiled this week, May vowed that if her deal is rejected, lawmakers will vote in the following days on whether to leave without a deal or delay Brexit.

But European leaders have warned any postponement would come with conditions.

Barnier suggested a short delay could be acceptable.

“The European institutions will do whatever is necessary on their side but the British have told us in the past that they will need two months to ratify” the deal.

“It would then require a simple technical extension.”

While Britain is yet to request a delay, “I don't think there would be any objections in principle” from the other 27 EU nations, Barnier said.

However, any delay “must serve to solve a problem, not merely to postpone it and remain at an impasse.”

READ ALSO: Boost for Brits in EU as UK government backs key Brexit amendment

Member comments

  1. don’t give any more time – The British parliament cannot resolve anything – NO DEAL is the only resolution

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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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