Concerns over the situation of vulnerable Britons living in the EU – including several in France who forgot to apply for Withdrawal Agreement (WA) cards – have been raised by campaign groups and lawmakers.
Post-Brexit, Britons must have a formal residency status and cannot rely on free movement.
Among those who have been struggling are a minority of long-term residents who did not apply for WA cards before 2021.
They must apply via prefectures explaining why they are late but it can be hard to contact prefectures or get face-to-face appointments.
French MP is trying to help Britons case-by-case
MP for Manche Bertrand Sorre said he had been approached by 10 Britons who missed the deadline after “forgetting” or due to ignorance of the rules.
He has helped more than half obtain cards. “One had been here 20 years but hadn’t done it and found herself in France illegally. Another had been born in Jersey and lives with a French citizen.
“I work with the prefecture and manage, case by case, to obtain cards. The prefect can allow it, depending on the situation.
“Otherwise, people might have to go back to the UK and start again by applying for a visa, and for some it’s impossible. Some Britons here have no family in the UK any more.”
He said he supports a fast-track process extending the application window for another year or two so such people can regularise their residency.
Lack of information for family members of WA Britons
Other groups that have to apply to prefectures are close family members of existing WA Britons who want to live with them, as well as young Britons approaching 18 who need their own residency cards, and holders of five-year WA cards (issued to people who could not originally prove five years’ pre-Brexit residency) seeking upgrades to ‘permanent stay’ cards.
Immigration consultant Ilya Zlokazov, of Zlozazov & Company, in Alpes-Maritimes, said he has helped several WA Britons’ family members but notes that there is a lack of information about the process online and difficulty in organising face to face meetings with officials.
“We made prefecture appointments by clicking on a category for family members of French people or Europeans,” he said.
House of Lords ‘very concerned’
The chairman of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Lord Wood, wrote to the Home Secretary, warning that the rights of UK citizens in the EU remain “a live issue”.
Referring to oral evidence from lawyer Jane Golding, co-chair of campaign group British in Europe, he said the Lords were “very concerned to hear that resources to support UK citizens in the EU on citizens’ rights issues have been scaled back substantially since 2021”.
Ms Golding had reported to the committee that a “rise in serious and complex cases” coincided with drastically reduced state support from both the UK government and EU member states.
She had also suggested that it was a “lottery as to whether Britons can get any real help from their local embassy” due to the dedicated funds for citizens’ rights officers in individual states having been cut in March, leaving embassies more reliant on NGOs for evidence of the situation on the ground.
Lord Wilson also regretted the closure of the UK Nationals Support Fund, which funded voluntary bodies to help Britons with WA residency, meaning there is now no specific source of help for those still struggling.
No help from British Embassy for dementia case
The vice-president of the association European Britons, Sara Page, recently wrote for website EU Reporter, accusing the UK of being uninterested in aiding passport-holders living abroad.
Ms Page, from Brittany, said her mairie had contacted her local Anglican church about a British brother and sister with dementia it was assisting with food and visits. The church found they had no relatives and their passports were missing.
She wrote: “The British Embassy said they were not responsible for assisting UK citizens who have mental health issues and we would have to apply for new passports through the usual channels. End of help and advice.”
Ultimately, the French state had stepped in, she said. Ms Page also noted that Britons abroad have no dedicated MPs, unlike the French, whose government, she said, is concerned for its citizens’ welfare wherever they are.
British nationals must ‘take responsibility for themselves’
Asked to comment, a British Embassy spokeswoman said embassies and consulates can help Britons abroad in a range of situations, such as if they lose their passport, are victims of crime, or are hospitalised. However, they also expect British nationals to “take responsibility for themselves and their safety”.
She added: “We seek to prioritise helping Britons we assess as vulnerable and needing our help most, generally when they cannot protect themselves from significant physical or emotional harm, or be protected by others.
“We also consider certain people as vulnerable, regardless of circumstances – for example, victims of rape and sexual assault, forced marriage cases, and situations involving children and young people.”
Sources of information and advice
A UK government website indicates sources of help, the spokeswoman added. Further information for British nationals abroad can be found on the Foreign Office website. It is possible to call consular services 24/7 on 01 44 51 31 00.
Embassy teams also work closely with local partners – both French bodies and British associations and charities – to assist vulnerable residents with “healthcare, welfare, mental health, safeguarding or social care”. This can include speaking to the prefecture if WA issues are part of the problem.
The Embassy continues to raise any WA implementation issues with the Interior Ministry and the UK Foreign Office’s citizens’ rights team.
“The Ambassador and the Embassy engage continually with a wide range of stakeholders across the whole of France, including via regular visits outside Paris,” the spokeswoman said.