Ed Llewellyn: remaining optimistic for France's rentrée

Every month the British Ambassador to France, Ed Llewellyn, shares an insight into his role. Here, read his column for September.

27 August 2020
By Ed Llewellyn

As we return from our summer holidays, it does not feel like a return to normal. I want to take this opportunity to reassure you that the Embassy’s top priority remains helping British citizens in France when you need us.

Noticing hopeful signs

Someone reminded me recently of the adage that optimism is to a diplomat what courage is to a soldier – it may make no logical sense, but you cannot do the job without it. However, even with infection rates rising around us, there remain hopeful signs.

In my last column, I highlighted the world-leading research of higher education institutions across the UK. In August, the Government secured early access to 90 million new doses of a fifth and sixth Covid-19 vaccine in development, funding global clinical trials. If you are interested in the search for a vaccine, do listen to Kate Bingham and Sir Patrick Vallance’s Covid-19 podcast. Managing the effects of the pandemic continues to be a priority.

The recent return of quarantine for anyone travelling from France to the UK was a reminder that we need to keep up our collective guard. I know that any restriction on travel causes real disruption to families and businesses, and can only assure you that the health statistics for all countries are kept under close and constant review. I hope that many of you were able to read my recent interview on the Connexion website at the link above, and found our Facebook updates useful.

Keeping the country updated

In a record effort from our Communications team, we reached more than 577,000 people the weekend after our Travel Advice changed. We will continue to update you on further announcements, including, of course, on the reciprocal measures the French Government has said it intends to impose. In the meantime, do remember that all passengers travelling to the UK must complete an online Passenger Locator Form before travel.

This autumn is not just about Covid-19, of course. The French authorities will publish a decree explaining what British citizens will need for residency applications. The online system goes live on 1 October 2020 and you will have until 30 June 2021 to apply. We will share information as widely and as soon as we can. Do consider signing up to our Living in France Guide for automatic updates, and, if you think you may face difficulties, get in touch with one of the four organisations the British Government is funding to support you in this.

The end of the transition period

As we approach the end of the Transition Period, the way we trade will change. The Embassy is also here to help with this. From January 1, 2021, the UK will operate a full external border – which will mean controls on the movement of goods between the United Kingdom and the European Union. These will be introduced in three stages from January 1 to July 1. My colleagues in the Department for International Trade are working to support businesses on both sides of the Channel to prepare. Please do get in touch with our local team if you have any queries.

The wider world continues to be turbulent, and we continue to work closely with our French colleagues around the globe. Recently, for example, the Government gave £25 million in aid to the people of Lebanon following the tragic explosion in Beirut. Our Chinook helicopters in Mali provide much-valued support to French forces there. We are working together on our response to the situation in Belarus. I discussed all this, as well as the latest on the EU Exit negotiations, with the new Europe Minister, Clément Beaune, last week.

As you will see from the main picture, I try to fly the flag even when on my bike! This autumn, we will continue to adapt and innovate. We are reimagining many events, and still preparing for COP 26 and the UK-France Summit, just on slightly slower timetables.

I will continue to meet with representatives of the British community, in small and bigger groups, but principally online. I will be inviting people to join me in the Residence to see the best of the UK - virtually. I hope that it will include you!

As you plan your own, no doubt equally complicated, rentrée, I hope you all keep well and encourage you to stay safe and follow the local health restrictions in whichever town or département you are reading this.

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