The Local spoke to Peter Ricketts, who served as British Ambassador to France between 2012 and 2016, at an event organised by the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris where he shared his views on Brexit, future negotiations and Britain’s place in the world.
And on the subject of the rules for UK nationals either living in the EU or visiting regularly his message was a stark one – the current arrangement is the “high water mark” and unlikely to be improved upon.
He said: “I cannot see this government using time or negotiating capital on these issues, I think that the rights of expats are not a priority for either the UK government or EU governments.
“The agreements that are in place now are the high water mark.”
Brits who were living in the EU before December 31st 2020 are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, which offers wide-ranging guarantees that they can stay in the countries that they call home, although those living in France need to apply for a residency card.
However the Withdrawal Agreement is not an exact replica of the rights granted as a citizen of an EU country and does not cover issues like freedom to move to a different EU country or voting rights.
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Brits who do not live in France are now subject to Third Country National rules (the same rules previously in place for other non-EU nationals like Americans, Canadians and Australians) which restrict stays to 90 days or less and requires visas for longer stays.
Brits wishing to work in EU countries now need work permits for many jobs, and visas if they are planning to work for more than 90 days.
There are several petitions and campaigns in place calling for a relaxation for these rules – especially around the 90-day rule which has had a big impact on second-home owners from the UK, who had become used to spending long periods in their French properties without having to worry about visas.
However, Lord Ricketts said he thought it was “unlikely” that these would be effective, adding that the UK government was likely to prioritise its negotiating time for trade and security talks, rather than the rights of second-home owners.
The Ambassador retired from the diplomatic service in 2016, but now sits in the House of Lords as a life peer and acts as a consultant to defence firm Lockheed Martin.
Giving his impression of the Brexit negotiations, he said: “I think we were all surprised at what a hard Brexit it was in the end, and how the deal was left to the very last days of December and just how badly prepared the UK government was, particularly in relation to the protocol around the Irish border.”
He said he feared a “very bad, adversarial relationship” between the UK and the EU, but added that the UK and France had better bilateral relations thanks to close military co-operation and a 50-year treaty regarding nuclear co-operation.
And those hoping for a better relationship between the UK and the EU might have to wait 10-15 years for the next generation of British politicians, according to Lord Ricketts.
He said: “I don’t believe that the generation that has grown up with Easyjet, Eurostar and Erasmus will be satisfied with a distant relationship with the EU, I think they will want to move closer when they take power in 10 or 15 years. That’s when the relationship will reset.”
Peter Ricketts’ book Hard Choices: Britain and the New Geometry of Global Power is published on May 13th.