INTERVIEW: ‘For the sake of Britons in France, it’s time to pass the Brexit deal and move on to the real negotiations’

The French MP who helped plan France's preparations for Brexit told The Local on Friday that British people living in France "will always be welcome here", but that it was now time to ratify the Brexit deal and move on.

INTERVIEW: 'For the sake of Britons in France, it's time to pass the Brexit deal and move on to the real negotiations'
French MP Alexandre Holroyd.

Alexandre Holyrod, a member of France's Assemblée national, has been instrumental in setting up the systems that will allow British people already resident in France to stay after Brexit.

The French-British dual national is an MP for President Emmanual Macron's La République En Marche (LREM) party and is one of the deputés who represents French citizens who live abroad.

Unlike the UK, France grants full voting rights to its citizens who choose to live abroad for as long as they like, and also has a number of MPs who represent their interests.

He therefore represents the tens of thousands French people who live in the UK, but was also the rapporteur to the French parliamentary select committee in charge of organising preparations for Brexit, part of which involved putting in place arrangements in France for British people who live here.

In that role, he was instrumental in putting together the French no-deal Brexit preparations on citizens rights outlined in the ordonnance published in April, as well as more recent additions like the online application process for residency permits.


He spoke to The Local about the process from the perspective of French lawmakers.

He said: “We were very clear from the start that British people living in France should be afforded the easiest circumstances possible to remain in the same conditions – within the framework of our laws.
“Some things were impossible to reconcile – for example the right to continue running for election because that is a right for EU citizens – but I think the vast majority of rights were respected.
“Throughout all the discussions on this in the French parliament it was clear that this was a practical discussion not a political one – everyone wanted to offer the most advantageous treatment possible, within the framework of our laws, to British people who are already resident here.
“There were no dissenting views from that, it was merely a case of developing a system within our framework.
“Our message to the British people who are living in France is very clear – you will always be welcome here.”
France has repeatedly said that it wants a strong relationship with the UK after Brexit, and has always said it will do what it can for its British residents, but many of the rights for UK citizens living in Europe are based on the principle of reciprocity, so the stance of the UK is crucial.
The work of Holroyd and his committee resulted in the ordonnance published in April which lays out the conditions under which British people who are already resident in France can remain in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
If Britain leaves with a deal, citizens rights for British people are covered in the Withdrawal Agreement, although there is still latitude for countries to decide how to implement their residency procedures.
In France, a website has been set up for British people already here to apply for residency. It is open now to take applications, although the French authorities will not begin processing them until the UK has actually left –  with or without a deal.
The ordonnance also gives a grace period of a year for people to sort out their residency.
He added: “The grace period – in the case of a no-deal Brexit – is intended to be a time when people can carry on their normal daily lives.”
As the MP for the troisieme circonscription des français establi etranger with responsibility for French people living in northern Europe, Holroyd has also been closely involved with the process for French people living in the UK.
He said: “I think the situation for the French in the UK is very similar to the British in France in that there is significant uncertainty and also sadness at the way the decision went, and of course they have the same worries about residency and healthcare and the strength of the commitments that have been made to them and what happens to people who either do not qualify for residency or do not apply in time.
“We are monitoring the Settled Status scheme and for the moment the majority of the people that we are aware of being given incorrect status is because of mistakes they have made in applying.
“But of course there are a lot of people still waiting for their applications to be processed. 
“Of course we believe that the best way to fully guarantee rights for UK and EU citizens is for the British parliament to agree to the deal.
“It is a good deal and it has been negotiated painstakingly over three years. The best option would be for them to ratify it and then we can move on to the real Brexit negotiations, which are likely to be complicated and time consuming.
“It is time to draw a line and to at least provide some certainly for the EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.
“France has prepared for no deal, but being prepared is not the same as there being no consequences and I think it is important to recognise that.”
France has spent €40 million on border arrangements alone in its no-deal preparations, the majority of which has gone on customs arrangements at northern ports like Calais with the UK such as implementing new technology and employing extra customs officers.
However Holroyd also confirmed that the French government will be investing in extra resources to deal with residency applications from British people after Brexit.
He said: “The Ministry of the Interior has committed to giving more resources to this, particularly in préfectures where a lot of British people live.
“The situation at préfectures is often different from place to place in France, some are large some have a much smaller staff and in this case some have only a small population of British people while in other areas there is a potential influx. So people will see a difference in how applications are processed, in the speed and the timing.”
For the moment all the French parliament can do is wait to see what will happen over the next few days at the House of Commons in London. And as they wait, so do tens of thousands of British people who wish to continue to live and work in France.

Member comments

  1. No, no and no! The only way out of this mess is to stop Brexit entirely. Our rights in France depend on reciprocity, meaning that we all have to put our trust in the most corrupt government the UK has ever seen. This will not end well.

  2. Totally agree NO NO NO. Revoke article 50 The UK government are to be held responsible for this appauling situation purely to keep power. They care not for anything else.

  3. Totally disagree. The people voted to leave. What good is a vote if it is ignored? I find it interesting that so many British want to leave their own country. Leave now! The EU will never work. It is being forced on people.

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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.