Britons abroad in limbo as MPs to vote on new deal

With a ‘new Brexit deal' heading back for a vote in the UK Houses of Parliament tomorrow Britons in France find themselves much as they did at the start of this year – still in limbo over their future rights.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is “very confident” his deal will be passed by the MPs tomorrow, but commentators think it will be a knife-edge vote, with a significant chance remaining that the UK could leave with no deal.

The ‘new deal’ agreed yesterday morning between the Johnson government and the European Commission, and consented to by the European Council last night, includes all of the same provisions for Britons abroad in the EU as the previous ‘Theresa May’ deal which was rejected by MPs.

The substance of this was largely agreed as long ago as December 2017 and was finalised by November 2018

This includes protections for life for the main rights required by Britons to continue their lives in France, though they may be required to prove that they have been living ‘legally and stably’ in France according to EU residency law. The latter includes being covered for healthcare and having sufficient means ‘not to be a burden on the social welfare system’ in the first five years.

In practice, however, French government sources have told Connexion they would expect arrangements to be ‘even simpler’ in the deal scenario than those on offer in the French no-deal laws which include a lightened means test compared to what is expected of ordinary non-EU citizens and an application for a carte de séjour online.

New elements of the redrafted Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to be put to the MPs tomorrow relate only to complex new arrangements for Northern Ireland and there have also been some tweaks to the accompanying Political Declaration on the future relationship. The part on citizens’ rights has not been changed.

Table from Connexion helpguide: Brexit and Britons in France

If the ‘new deal’ is accepted by MPs, sitting exceptionally on a Saturday, then Brexit is expected to happen in two weeks’ time on Thursday October 31 at midnight.

That will lead into a transition period until at least the end of 2020 and Britons would have until June 30, 2021 at least, to apply for a new carte de séjour. It is expected to be of a different kind from the non-EU citizen cards listed in the French no-deal decree.

Nothing will change for Britons in France – barring for example any further drops in the value of the pound – during the transition period, which could be extended until 2022 at the latest on mutual agreement between the UK and EU.

Apart from more ‘breathing space’, the deal would also give Britons in France more certainty over the whole range of their rights, as opposed to in the no-deal scenario which leaves gaps to be filled by potential future bilateral treaties between the UK and France, including on important issues such as pensioners’ healthcare and UK state pension uprating.

The deal also means the whole range of Britons' rights being secured in an international treaty as opposed to in a no-deal many of them depending on national UK or French laws (note however that the no-deal long-term resident card for Britons who can show more than five years in France attests to a recognised residency right under EU, and not just French, law).

If the MPs reject the deal then Mr Johnson is required by the Benn Act to ask the EU for an extension of at least three months taking us into the New Year.

This possibility has not been ruled out by the European Council, despite comments yesterday from EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who said: “We have concluded a deal and so there is no argument for further delay.”

If that happens commentators believe there will be a new election and perhaps another referendum.

If an extension is refused then the UK would leave on October 31 with no deal.

There is another possibility – that the deal will be voted through but with an amendment requiring a confirmatory referendum, in which case an extension would also be required.

The British in Europe coalition of groups for Britons’ rights in the EU considers that the deal is better than no-deal but that the best ‘deal’ is staying in the EU because the UK and EU failed to agree a form of deal that fully allows Britons to simply ‘live their lives as before’.

No-Brexit means no requirement to prove the right to stay or to apply for a carte de séjour, free movement to live and work around the 27 other EU states, voting rights in local elections, automatic recognition of British qualifications and the status of ‘EU citizen’ as opposed to being classed as a ‘foreigner’ or ‘third-country national’.

In a post on its Facebook page, France Rights, a new coalition member, sums up the situation for Britons by comparing it to an old TV quiz show called Take Your Pick.

“You could choose to take the finite amount of money that you'd won, or to 'open the box'.

“The box might contain big prizes, or it might contain a booby prize. “Where we are [now] is a bit like that quiz show, with the deal on the table on Saturday as 'taking the money'.

“The box might contain the future revocation of Article 50, or it might contain a no deal Brexit.”

As we move towards crunch time tomorrow there is no guarantee of the deal being voted through by the MPs, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats and SNP planning to vote against it, and the DUP is also opposed to it.

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