January Brexit: what Britons in France need to know

The UK is on course to leave the EU with the negotiated deal at midnight on January 31 – bringing mixed feelings for many Britons in France. The Conservative election win ended hopes of another referendum or Brexit cancellation but brings some certainty, say campaigners for Britons abroad.

25 December 2019
By Oliver Rowland

The Conservative election win ended hopes of another referendum or Brexit cancellation but brings some certainty, say campaigners for Britons abroad.

The ‘deal’ includes a range of rights giving protection to Britons living in the EU (see below) – and these will hold even if no UK-EU future trade agreement is reached during the 11-month transition period which begins on February 1.

During the transition time little should change. Britons living in France must get a carte de séjour but officially have until six months after the end of the transition period to apply ie. the end of June 2021 if this is not extended.

In practice, it would be advisable to apply as soon as procedures are known.

No details have been given about whether there will be a national online system for this or if the existing ‘no-deal’ site (tinyurl.com/tfbnucu) will be converted. It is not known what will happen to applications already made.

The cards are expected to be of a special new type. They will be free.

The UK Parliament has passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill with the second reading seen as a de facto ratification of the Brexit deal, meaning no separate vote is considered necessary.

The bill must now clear the House of Lords and then the deal must be formally ratified by the European Parliament. Shortly after Brexit the EU is due to publish negotiation objectives for the ‘future relationship’ talks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson altered his EU withdrawal bill to make it unlawful for the government to extend the talks into 2021, giving negotiators just 11 months to reach a trade agreement. The deadline of the end of 2020 was originally planned when Brexit was expected to be on March 31, 2019.

The deal itself allows for an extension of a year or two by mutual agreement.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said 11 months is an “improbable” timeframe to reach an overall agreement on all remaining matters.

These range from trade rules to agreements for planes to fly between the UK and EU, to counter terrorism cooperation, Erasmus, immigration, an Ehic replacement and social security coordination for future expatriates.

Mr Johnson has said there would be “no alignment” with EU rules under the terms of a trade deal he wants to strike with the bloc.

This adds potential complication especially since President Macron had said the talks could only go quickly if the UK maintains almost all existing rules on such areas as ecology, workers’ rights and safety and that it does not become an unfair competitor.

Mr Barnier said that 11 months would mean a race to agree a “vital minimum for trade and security” or a “cliff edge” departure on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms. If this happens, Britons living in France might suffer disruption to flights and a fall in sterling but rights as stated in the deal (see table below) would remain.

However, it would mean no new measures in place to help second home-owners, such as a replacement for the Ehic healthcare card or any softening of immigration rules limiting visits to 90 days in any 180-day period.

There has been speculation that the EU might take the initiative to ask for an extension, perhaps “sweetening” this with an offer for the UK to pay less into EU coffers during this extension.

The EU Commission’s new president has warned that a “cliff-edge” exit would harm the UK more than it would harm the EU.

 

What’s in the deal?

The deal consists of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and a political declaration on the future relationship, laying the basis for further talks in the transition period.

The WA would be a binding treaty if the UK leaves with the deal and would maintain the status quo on most areas for Britons already living in France before the transition period ends.

This includes UK pensioners’ healthcare, uprated state pensions, exported UK benefits and the right to French benefits on the same basis as French nationals.

To benefit, Britons would need to obtain cards and there may be additional complications, eg. UK work qualifications may no longer be automatically acceptable unless you apply for a validation process before the end of the transition period.

Rights such as local and EU voting and continuing free movement would be lost.

Several laws passed by the French government in 2019, simplifying documents for Britons’ carte applications, allowing British fonctionnaires to stay in jobs, or permitting Britons to continue using UK driving licences, may need to be replaced by versions applying to the deal scenario, as they are not automatic in the deal.

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