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BREXIT

OPINION: If the UK won’t stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it’s down to us

Writing in The Local, Jane Golding, the co-chair of campaign group British in Europe explains what she'll be doing to mark Brexit on Friday, how the loss of freedom of movement is such an emotional and financial blow to many and how it feels to be neglected by a British government who promised Brits in the EU their rights would be protected.

OPINION: If the UK won't stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it's down to us

What will you be doing on Friday night at 11 pm (or midnight)?

Like many British people on the continent, I haven’t decided. I fluctuate between wanting to mark Brexit quietly but symbolically with some friends in Berlin, or just staying home with my husband and going across the road to our local bar for a couple of strong cocktails. 

Or maybe just going to bed and hiding under the duvet.

Whatever I end up doing, the mood deep down will be sadness.

Then there is the exhaustion and physical toll from three years of campaigning to limit the damage that Brexit is causing to the 1.3 million of us who live in an EU 27 country.

Jane Golding gives a presentation to the Joint EP Committee Citizens' Rights hearing. Photo: Screengrab udiovisual.ec.europa.eu

And watching first-hand how the government that is supposed to be fighting our corner has led the race to the bottom in removing the indispensable rights on which we have built our lives has made me wonder what the value of British citizenship is – if this government had really cared about our rights, they would have made good on their pledge to give us back our votes in the Referendum and last three national votes. 

There is also the frustration of how we have been portrayed in some of the media – obviously I didn’t move to Berlin for a place in the sun! 

But I will be with my German husband and that matters hugely.

You see, he understands, as a former GDR citizen, about hard borders and separation.  He knows why free movement is important to me and he frankly doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go backwards.

And binational marriages and relationships between UK and other EU citizens like ours are a key part of the integration that has been fundamental to the success of the European project.  We’re together, but not the same – and that’s a good thing.

At its heart, the European project is one of peace, solidarity and cooperation, designed to bring people and cultures together, so that conflict becomes unthinkable. 

This is what my British father who, aged 20, was moving across Europe with the Allies and my German father-in-law who, aged 16, survived the bombing of Dresden, hoped for – for their children and their grandchildren.

British in Europe's Jane Golding (centre) and Kalba Meadows (left) along with the3million's Nicolas Hatton deliver a message to Downing Street. Photo: AFP

Together with our 3 million EU friends living in the UK, we make up nearly one third of all EU citizens who use their free movement rights.  

We are the people who have seized all the opportunities that EU citizenship and the fundamental freedoms have given us and taken them far beyond what the founding fathers dreamt of. The children of the European project.

This is why losing free movement and its associated cross border working rights are such an emotional blow for many.  Under the Withdrawal Agreement Brits in the EU will be able to stay and work in the country that they are resident in on Brexit day. This is a welcome step. But it is limited to that one country.  

This loss of free movement has practical consequences for the 80 percent of us who are working age or younger.  For many, crossing a border for work is like going out to buy bread. It’s something we do every week. Without it, many actual breadwinners will struggle to pay their rents, mortgages and provide for their families as they simply won’t be as attractive to employers or clients anymore.

We want to be able to carry on fighting for free movement as a priority in the future relationship negotiations. But campaigning has taken an economic (as well as emotional)  toll on our volunteers, many of whom are working full time, and have families themselves.

This is why we are asking supporters of our work to consider setting up a standing order to help us carry on our work in Phase 2 of the negotiations.  Someone needs to stand up for UK nationals on the continent. If the British Government isn’t going to do it or give us our votes back, it looks as though it will have to be us.

To find out more about how to donate to British in Europe you can CLICK HERE.

In the week running up to Brexit, British in Europe have been publishing detailed analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement and what it means for Britons across the EU. You can find out more HERE.

 

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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