Can I still do a booze cruise to France after Brexit?

For many people one of the greatest things about the European Union project - apart from lasting peace, business opportunities and cultural ties - is the opportunity to buy lots of cheap French wine and bring it back to the UK. But what will happen to this fine tradition after Brexit?

Can I still do a booze cruise to France after Brexit?
Photo: AFP

The custom of British people filling the car up with alcohol – usually wine – in France and taking it back to the UK on the ferry or via the Channel Tunnel is a popular one. So much so that when a no-deal Brexit loomed, Calais supermarkets were inundated with Brits stocking up on cases of wine and beer while they still could.

But with Brexit day now fast approaching, what will be new rules be for bringing alcohol and cigarettes in to the UK from the EU?

Transition period

Assuming that the UK exits the EU on January 31st with a deal – which is now looking like the most likely scenario – there then begins a transition period which runs until at least December 31st.

During that period, most things about travel in Europe for British people remain the same, including the rules on what goods you can bring in to the UK from the EU.

Existing rules

Those rules state that you can bring an unlimited amount of wine or tobacco in to the UK from the EU without being required to pay extra duty at the UK border.

However there are some caveats to this.

  • You must have paid taxes and duties on the goods where you bought them (so dodgy cheap cigarettes bought from unlicenced street vendors would not count)
  • You must transport the goods yourself
  • You must either use them yourself or give them away as a gift. So if for example a family member was getting married in the UK, you would be perfectly entitled to load up your car with wine for the wedding reception, but only if you then gave it to them free of charge. If you made them pay for it that would count as commercial activity and you could find yourself liable for duty (as well as some frosty looks at the reception).

Although there is no limit on the amount of goods that can be brought in, there is a guideline amount above which customs officials are likely to ask you some questions.

The amounts are

  • Wine – 90 litres (or 120 standard size bottles)
  • Spirits – 10 litres
  • Fortified wine – 20 litres
  • Beer – 110 litres (or 193 pints)
  • Cigarettes – 800

Among the questions you are likely to be asked are what you have bought, how you paid for it, what you intend to use them for and how much you normally smoke and drink.

And just in case you want to do the trip the other way round – importing Boddingtons beer and Kentish wine in to France – check out the rules for bringing alcohol in to France.

After the end of the transition period

At present the transition period lasts until December 31st 2020, although it is possible that could be extended as it gives just 11 months for the UK and EU to agree on a trade deal, as well as sort out multiple details about the rules going forward on issues including residency application process, the rules for UK citizens moving to the EU and ongoing visa arrangements.

If the transition period is extended, the rules stay the same until the new end date, but if not they will change from January 1st, 2021.

One of the things that would need to be agreed during the transition period is whether to keep the current system for bringing in goods or go back to the old arrangement of 'duty free' shops but limits on the amount of goods that can be taken between countries.

That depends on how closely the UK wants to remain aligned to EU rules around the single market, which has important implications for trade after the end of the transition period.

So the short answer is that at present, we don't know.

Check out The Local's Preparing for Brexit section for more detail and updates as we get them on issues including residency, travel, healthcare and driving in France. If you have questions, please send them to us here and we will do our best to answer them.




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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.