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BREXIT

Brexit: The unanswered questions that remain for Brits in France

We're just over two weeks away from the current Brexit date of October 31st and there is still no deal - so what has been settled for British people living, working or travelling to France and what remains unanswered?

Brexit: The unanswered questions that remain for Brits in France
Borders will be getting less porous for Britons. Photo: AFP

The political game continues, but British people living in France, those working here or those who have a second home here are still largely in limbo over what happens after October 31st.

With still no certainty over whether there will be a no-deal Brexit, a Brexit with a deal or another postponement, there are many unanswered questions. Here's a look at what we do and don't know.

Residency

This is obviously the biggie for people living in France – will they be allowed to remain in the country.


The new online application system is now live. Photo: AFP

What we know

In April French authorities published their no-deal decree, laying out the ground rules by which people who are already resident in France on Brexit day can stay here if Britain leaves without a deal.

There are different rules for different types of people – find out more here – but the no-deal decree also gives a one-year grace period for everyone to get their residency status sorted out, so there is no need to panic.

They then followed this up earlier this month by launching a special website for British residents in France to register their residency applications. Although the applications will only start to be processed after Britain leaves the EU (which is currently scheduled for October 31st, but another extension is not impossible) the website is now up and running so people can lodge their applications now.

What we don't know

How long is the grace period?

This depends on whether there is a deal or not. Leaving with a deal means a transition period until December 2020 during which all current rights for British people in France remain unchanged. If there is a no-deal, the French are offering a one-year grace period on residency, but all applications will have to be submitted within six months of Brexit day.

What are the conditions for remaining in France?

Again, these vary depending if it is a deal or no-deal, but broadly you will need to prove that you can support yourself – either through a salary, self-employed income or a pension.

How long will it take for applications to be processed?

It's hard to say. Because British people in France have never had to register for residency before, no-one even knows exactly how many of them are in the country. There are 150,000 registered British residents, but it is estimated that the true figure could be up to 300,000.

All of them will have to use the new government website (unless you don't have internet in which case you can apply at the préfecture), either to swap their carte de séjour permenant for a new card or to make a new application if they do not have a current, 10-year card.

That means that in the event of a no-deal Brexit even those people who already have one or five year EU residency cards still have to go through the process of applying for a new card. One or five year EU cartes de séjour cannot just be swapped like the carte de séjour permanent.

After any no-deal on October 31st applications will then be processed by the préfectures where they live, so it is expected that there will be big variations in processing times between areas where lots of Brits live and places where the population is more sparse. Some places where there is a large British population, such as Dordogne, are getting new temporary staff to help deal with the applications, but whether this will be enough to help them cope with the tidal wave of residency requests remains to be seen.

What we also don't know is if there's a deal and the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by parliament, is what kind of residency card will be issued to Britons.

Campaigner Kalba Meadows from France Rights suggests the French are planning to deal with this question once they know there's a deal, but suggests the card will have to be a specific one that identifies Britons as being protected under the Withdrawal Agreement.

Healthcare

The other major concern for British people in France, particularly pensioners, is whether their healthcare will continue to be covered. Of huge concern to anyone undergoing treatment – who are therefore unlikely to be covered by private medical insurance – this is an issue that has driven many to despair.

What we know

For employed or self-employed people this is relatively simple and will remain largely unchanged. Anyone paying in to the French system through taxes is already entitled to a carte vitale health card, which means the majority of treatment costs are reimbursed by the state health insurance.

Most people also have a mutuelle which provides top-up insurance and takes care of the outstanding costs of doctor's appointments, prescriptions and treatments.

After Brexit the British-issued European health cards EHIC will cease to work, so if you are living in France but planning on travelling to other parts of Europe you need to apply through your local CPAM for a French issued EHIC.

Since Britain will no longer be in the EU, however, these cards will not cover you for the cost of any treatment needed during trips back to the UK. For that you will need to get private health or travel insurance.

If there's a deal then the Citizens' Rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement guarantees Britons in France the continued right to reciprocal healthcare. So those pensioners who have cover under the S1 scheme or will be eligible for one when they retire will continue to have their healthcare funded by the UK. For British workers in EU countries who pay into the national health scheme then, the rules will remain as they are now. 

What we don't know

What happens to pensioners, students and posted workers in a no-deal Brexit. These people are all currently covered under the S1 scheme, which means that they have a carte vitale, but instead of their healthcare costs being covered by the French government, they are covered by the British government instead, because the UK is their “competent state”.

The UK government has written to all people across the EU on the S1 scheme telling them that will be covered for at least six months after a no-deal Brexit, while France and the UK attempt to come to a bilateral agreement. 

But as part of its no deal decree the French government has said it will cover their health costs of pensioners for two years.

The difference in the two offers has caused huge confusion, but at a recent British embassy outreach meeting an official told members of the audience to ignore the letter from the NHS offering six months cover, because they would be entitled for two years cover under the French decree.

Whether it's six months or two years, it will still be just a stopgap while the UK and France come to an arrangement that will guarantee future cover for British pensioners in France and their French counterparts in the UK.

Detailed talks on this have not even started so it's impossible to say what any finalised deal might involve.

Pensions

What we know

Under a deal pensions will continue to be uprated each year as they are now. That means British pensioners in France will still see their pensions increase each year.

But if there's a no-deal Brexit the UK government has committed to uprating pensions for three years so until the end of the 2022 tax year which is in March 2023.

What we don't know

What will happen after three years? Once again it all depends on future negotiations.

The new three-year, no-deal guarantee is to give the UK government the time to negotiate either EU-wide or bilateral agreements with member states in order for uprating to be continued.

While pensions have been uprated for British pensioners living in the EU they are not for others living in certain countries like Canada or Australia, so there's no guarantee uprating will continue forever if there's no deal.

Travel

Most British people who live in France do like to go back to the UK and visit friends and relatives from time for time, while for people who work between the two countries or travel to a second home this is a regular necessity.

What we know

Aeroplanes, trains, ferries etc will still be running after Brexit. There will be more border checks, but possible long delays at the border are far more likely to involve freight rather than people. British people may have to join the non EU passport queue at any international border and these are generally slower but it is not anticipated there will be any other problems for Brits at the border.

However, it's not all plain sailing (even if you have your own yacht). If there's a divorce from the EU without a deal then unlike the current regime of freedom of movement there will be restrictions on how often you can enter a country and how long you can stay there.

If there's a no-deal Brexit, Britons will be classed as Third Country Nationals and, in the absence of any subsequent bilateral deals, will be subjected to the same rules as Americans and Australians, for example, already have to abide by on trips to Europe.

This means that if you are resident in the UK, you can only spend 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone. So if you've been used to spending the summers in France and the winters in the UK, that will no longer be possible. The 90 day restriction covers the whole of the Schengen zone, not just France.

Anyone who wishes to stay for longer will have to apply in advance for a long stay visa, for example a student visa for anyone coming to study in France.

Britons will need to make sure their passports are valid for at least six months before they travel.

What we don't know

If there's no deal it's not clear exactly how rigorously these rules will be enforced in France, particularly in the first year when many people will still be sorting out their residency status.

Anyone who does not have a carte de séjour will have no official way of proving that they are a resident of France and therefore could find themselves inadvertently subject to tourist rules.

This issue has been raised urgently with the French government, but there has been no official response yet, although there have been indications that there will be no 'wet stamping' of passports during the first year. However, under the strict letter of the rules, anyone who is classified as a tourist visitor at the border and does not leave within 90 days risks being classed as an 'overstayer' which will make any subsequent attempts or enter the country or applications for residency much more difficult.

In the absence of official guidance, anyone without a carte de séjour is advised to take an extensive dossier of documents proving their residency in France if they plan on travelling after Brexit. (Or just staying put in France until the situation is resolved).

And that's just for humans – there are also some specific problems for pets who wish to travel.

Moving to France after Brexit

Special deals are in place (depending on the type of Brexit) for people who are already in the country – but what about people who might have plans to move here in the future? 

With freedom of movement set to go, there will likely be much stricter rules in place in the future for British people who fancy la belle vie in France.

What we know

Under the Withdrawal Agreement Britons can still move to France freely until the end of the transition period in December 2020. Although in that time they will make to make sure they are legally resident, in other words they can support themselves.

If there's a no-deal Brexit, Britons will immediately become Third Country Nationals, which means they must abide by the full immigration rules if they wish to move to France, subject to any bilateral agreement that may be made later.

This involves obtaining a long-stay visa before you leave the UK, then once in France beginning the application process for a carte de séjour within three months of arrival.

There are different rules for employees, self-employed and pensioners, but the bottom line is that you must be able to prove that you have enough money or earning power to support yourself.

Things are also set to get more complicated for businesses in France who wish to employ Brits not currently resident in France, as they will have to request official authorisation to do so.

As well as becoming more complex, the process is also set to become significantly more expensive, with visas and TCN carte de séjour applications running to several hundred euro each, as well as the necessity of proving sufficient funds.

What we don't know

There could well be a subsequent deal after Brexit allowing a more relaxed set of criteria for people moving to France

In fact that's true of all of the above. The Withdrawal Agreement that has been agreed by the EU but not (yet) ratified by the British parliament provides a transition period for this exact purpose – so that negotiations can begin on the above and a whole host of other topics (trade, customs, border controls etc). 

But international treaties are not famed for their speed, so even if there are deals eventually they could take years to put in place.

 

 

 

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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