‘It’s better than no deal’: Do Brits in Europe hope Theresa May wins Brexit vote?

A momentous vote will take place in the British parliament on Tuesday when Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal is put to an MPs vote. British citizens living in Europe are torn over whether or not to back the agreement that would preserve most of their rights, but confirm the UK's exit from the EU.

'It's better than no deal': Do Brits in Europe hope Theresa May wins Brexit vote?
British MPs in the House of Commons await the result of crucial vote linked to Brexit. Photo: AFP

On Tuesday, the House of Commons, the UK’s lower house, will vote on what is probably the most important parliamentary vote in Britain this century.

If MPs approve Theresa May’s 585-page Brexit deal, the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU will have been broadly defined.

In such a scenario, May’s Conservative government could yet survive to lead the next phase of negotiations with the bloc after March 2019 and Brits in the EU will have retained most of the rights they currently enjoy, although some crucial ones will be lost.

Should parliament reject the terms of the deal, four potential outcomes look likely. The prime minister could try and negotiate a new deal (unlikely, given that the EU has said this is not an option); the UK electorate could be given a second chance to vote on Brexit (broadly termed a People’s Vote); or Britain could leave the EU without a deal on March 29th. A rejection of the deal could also lead to a general election in the UK.

While PM Theresa May doesn't appear to have enough support it's still impossible to tell which way the vote will go because of the division among political parties in Westminster.

Britons living in the European Union, among those groups most affected by Brexit, are equally split about whether to support the deal. 

READ ALSO: 'You are a priority': France tries to reassure Britons over Brexit

If the Withdrawal Agreement is approved, the rights of Brits to remain indefinitely in their host country would be secured, as would their index-linked pensions, healthcare cover and the right to study.

But those rights would be landlocked: Brits in the EU now look certain to lose the right to onward freedom of movement throughout the bloc.

Their right to vote in local elections also hangs in the balance. That is why many Brits are still hoping for a People’s Vote and potentially no Brexit at all.

So what should they wish for when the result of the MPs vote is announced on December 11th?

“I'm sure everyone realises that it's an impossible choice,” said Kalba Meadows, chair of Remain in France Together (RIFT) – the French branch of British in Europe, the grassroots pan-European campaign group for the rights of Brits in Europe.

“Vote for, and it preserves most of our rights under the Withdrawal Agreement – but …. Vote against, and you risk a no deal. Everyone will have a different view on that. It's a moral maze, and for us the question of voting for or against the deal should be a kind of 'free vote', up to each member,” added Meadows.

And Britons living in the EU were certainly making up their own minds. The fact they will lose onward free movement if the deal goes through was the reason many hope it gets voted down.

June, a retired Briton who has been living in Germany for more than a decade said: “Many British in the EU have cross-border jobs. This means being in two EU countries on a regular basis. Freedom of movement is essential.”

Jan Glover, a Briton living in France for the last 11 years agrees.

“The Withdrawal Agreement also has a lot of uncertainty and total lack of guarantees for UK citizens living in the EU who rely on freedom of movement to work and also for those with businesses who rely on cross border services arrangements. That makes Mrs May's deal a very bad one,” Glover told The Local.

Other Brits however are wary of the deal being rejected, seeing it as the best of all evils.

READ ALSO: Theresa May blasted for lauding the end of free movement for Britons across EU

“If there is going to be a Brexit then for us UK citizens living in the EU May's deal is a good one,” said Robert Neil, a British resident of Crete, Greece. “It has lots of certainty and guarantees unlike a no deal. A no deal could be a disaster.”

Others see rejecting the deal as the first step towards positive change.

“No deal will hurt a lot of people, but it will be short and sharp and will precipitate change,” Jez Thomas, a Briton based in Brussels, told The Local.

Paul Hearn, a Briton based in France said: “My hope is that Parliament will stop Brexit, soon after voting against the proposed deal, adding that “a People’s Vote is the only fallback position.” Hearn condemns the binary choice being offered to the UK’s parliament.

Clarissa Killwick, a founding member of Brexpats Hear Our Voice and a member of British in Italy, agrees Brits are essentially caught between a rock and a hard place.

“I see ‘no deal’ as the worst possible scenario, and then any kind of deal as the second worst scenario,” Killwick, who would prefer a second referendum, told The Local.

Yet she warns that a People’s Vote could also be a source of frustration for many Britons in Europe given that many would be excluded from the vote, as they were in the first referendum.

As the law currently stands, British citizens who have been resident outside of the UK for longer than 15 years are no longer eligible to vote – they are disenfranchised.

“I think it would be totally tragic for the UK to go ahead with this without an opportunity to reflect. A People's Vote would seem fair but once again many of us will most likely be disenfranchised because of the 15-year rule. I haven't heard any noises that EU citizens in the UK would be permitted to vote or 16 and 17-year-olds. So my fear is a People's Vote would not be democratic enough,” says Killwick.

The Overseas Electors Bill, known as the Vote for Life bill, is seeking to change this, but that amendment is unlikely to become law in time for the between 1.2 million and 3.6 million Brits in Europe to vote in any additional referendum on Brexit.

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In a recent poll of The Local's readers the vast majority of respondents favoured having a second referendum, believing it is the right thing to do given that voters now know what kind of Brexit is on the table.

But many are aware there was a risk of stirring up yet more division only to end up with the same result.

For the moment Britons across the EU can only watch on at the momentous event taking place in the UK, just like they have had to do since the shock referendum result.

READ MORE: 'Brits in France are victims of Brexit' – French senator vows to fight for UK citizens

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Reader Question: Does a passport renewal restart the 90 day clock for visiting France?

If you were hoping that your renewed passport might offer a way to avoid the 90-day rule when visiting France, here is what you should know.

Reader Question: Does a passport renewal restart the 90 day clock for visiting France?

Question – I’m British and a frequent visitor to France and since Brexit my passport is stamped when I enter and leave the country, in order to keep track of my 90-day allowance. However I’ve recently renewed my passport and of course the new one has no stamps – does this mean that I get a new 90-day allowance?

While it may seem like passport renewal could be a loophole for getting around the 90 day rule when visiting France, you should not attempt to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone without a visa or residency permit. 

Non-EU nationals including Americans, Canadians, Australians and – since Brexit – Brits are limited to spending only 90 days out of every 180 within the EU. Anyone who wants to spend longer than this needs to apply for either a passport or a residency card. These rules apply whether you want to move to an EU country such as France to live, or simply want to make frequent or long visits here.

The 90-day ‘clock’ covers all EU and Schengen zone countries – if you need help calculating your time spent in the Schengen zone, you can do so using this online calculator HERE.

Passports are stamped on entry and exit to the EU/Schengen zone, with dates of entry and exit.

However, getting a new passport does not reset the clock – some have suggested that a new passport could be a work-around, as it would not show previous entry/exit stamps which are used to calculate the amount of time a non-EU national person has spent in the Schengen zone. 

The primary reason is that passports are in most cases automatically scanned when you enter and leave the Bloc, which makes it easy to spot over-stayers and for border forces to enforce the 90-day rule. This means that border forces do not only rely on the physical stamps in your passport.

The EU’s new EES – Entry and Exit System – will tighten up the scanning process, but its entry has been delayed.

READ MORE: How does the 90-day rule work in France?

While in previous years France may have earned itself a reputation among non-EU travellers as being not too fussy about the exact exit date of people who aren’t working or claiming benefits, the reality is that you do not want to risk the possible consequences that can come with overstaying in the EU. 

If you are caught over-staying your allocated 90 days you can end up with an ‘over-stay’ flag on your passport which can make it difficult to enter any other country, not just France, and is likely to make any future attempts at getting visas or residency a lot more difficult.

The consequences for staying over can also include being fined – since Brexit, British visitors have reported being stopped and fined at the border upon exit if they are found to have spent more than 90 days in the Schengen zone.

Keep in mind that the 90-day rule does not apply to all non-EU countries – some states, such as India, are required to have a visa for even short stays. You can access the European Union’s map that outlines which countries require visas for short stays to check to see if you are eligible.

To learn more about the 90-day rule, and alternative options for how to stay in France longer than just 90 days out of every 180, click here for The Local’s guide