Mythbuster: The facts about the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

Withdrawal Agreement, transition period, trade deal - it's all very confusing when it comes to Brexit. Here citizens' rights expert Kalba Meadows of France Rights busts some of the biggest myths around the subject.

Mythbuster: The facts about the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement
Photo: AFP

MYTH: We don’t yet know which of our rights will be covered and we’ll all have to wait until the end of the transition period to find out, so there’s no point in bothering about any of it yet.

FACT: The Withdrawal Agreement, which is now in effect, sets out clearly which rights will be covered and how they will be covered in all these main areas: residence, healthcare, pensions and social security, working rights and professional qualifications and future family reunion.

Like all EU countries, France must implement these rights in full, and will have to incorporate them into its own national legislation. It can’t downgrade your rights from those contained in the Withdrawal Agreement, now or in the future, or impose any extra conditions to obtain or retain your rights. So we do in fact already have certainty about our future rights (although some of the administrative processes in France are still to be confirmed), and we can already make plans for the future based on what the Withdrawal Agreement says.

READ ALSO The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – what is it and does it cover me?

The full ratification documents of the Withdrawal Agreement being delivered to the European Parliament in January 2020. Photo: AFP

MYTH: The Withdrawal Agreement only covers us until the end of the transition period (currently December 31st 2020).

FACT: Your rights will be guaranteed by the Withdrawal Agreement for the whole of your lifetime as long as you meet the conditions and remain resident in France (see this page for the amount of time you’re allowed to be outside France without losing your rights). 

MYTH: We’ll have to wait until December 31st 2020 anyway as the Withdrawal Agreement will become null and void if the negotiations on trade and the future relationship break down and there is ‘no deal’ at the end of transition.

FACT: If no agreement on the future relationship is reached, the UK would automatically default to trading on WTO terms with the EU.

But the Withdrawal Agreement itself would not be affected; now that it has come into effect, it remains in effect even if there’s no agreement on trade and the future relationship.

The rights that it includes for us remain guaranteed and cannot be removed even in the absence of a trade/future relationship agreement at the end of the transition period. Our rights under the Withdrawal Agreement are guaranteed for our lifetimes whatever happens with the future negotiations as long as we continue to fulfill the conditions under it.

These conditions depend on the rights in question eg broadly the conditions and personal scope for residence and other rights are different to those for social security rights. So a failure to conclude a trade deal might be a 'no deal' situation for the UK, but not for us.

MYTH: The Withdrawal Agreement only covers people who were legally resident before Brexit day, January 31st 2020.

FACT: Anyone who is legally resident before the end of the transition period – currently set as December 31st 2020 – will have their rights guaranteed by the Withdrawal Agreement – this includes those who move during 2020.

So for those hoping to move to France (or another EU country) there is still a window during which you can do this – you haven’t missed the boat! Remember that being legally resident is more than just having a foot on the soil – you need to meet the conditions that apply to your situation and in order to successfully apply for a residence card you’ll have to provide evidence to show that you meet them. You can find out more about this here

TELL US: Have you experienced any problems with French officials since Brexit?

MYTH: A future far right government in France could decide to dispense with the Withdrawal Agreement and downgrade our rights.

FACT: The Withdrawal Agreement is an international treaty with the force of international law, and as such it trumps national law.

This means that France can't downgrade the rights you hold under the Withdrawal Agreement either now, by wrongly transposing it into national law, or in the future. It also has direct effect, which means that if France were to implement the Withdrawal Agreement incorrectly now, or adopt legislation contrary to the Withdrawal Agreement in future, citizens could rely directly on the provisions of the agreement before the courts.

And of course any dispute would also ultimately be subject to the jurisdiction of the European courts.

MYTH: I already hold a carte de séjour so none of this concerns me.

FACT: Every British citizen living in France will have to apply for a new status and carte de séjour under the Withdrawal Agreement, whether you currently hold a carte de séjour or not. In brief, if you hold a valid carte de séjour permanent you will be able to exchange this for a new card, while everyone else will need to make an application. The new cards will all carry the mention ‘accord de retrait’. 

Kalba Meadows works with British in Europe and France Rights, groups which work to protect the rights of British people living in the EU. Find out more here.

For more information on driving, healthcare, travel and pets after Brexit, head to our Preparing for Brexit section.


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‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK.