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BREXIT

EU launches legal action against UK over breach of Brexit deal

The EU has launched legal action against the UK government for alleged breach of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the European Commission chief confirmed on Thursday.

EU launches legal action against UK over breach of Brexit deal
Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AFP

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission announced that the UK had been put on formal notice over controversial legislation which even UK government ministers admit breaks international law.

Earlier this month the EU had demanded Britain withdraw its contentious Brexit legislation, known as the Internal Market Bill or face legal reprisals.

After Boris Johnson's government failed to respond to the demand by the end of September, the EU set in motion the first steps of legal action that will sour already fraught relations between London and Brussels.

“We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft Internal Market Bill by the end of September,” said Von der Leyen.

“This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith, laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is it will be in full contradiction to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

”The problematic provisions have not been removed. Therefore this morning, the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure,” she added.

The UK now has a month to respond to the commission's formal letter of notice.

The bill would give British ministers unilateral powers to regulate trade among England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, once the force of EU law expires at the end of the post-Brexit transition period – which comes to an end on December 31st 2020.

But under the EU withdrawal treaty, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on arrangements for Northern Ireland, which will have the UK's only land border with the EU, and where 30 years of bloodshed ended with a historic peace deal in 1998.

France told Britain it was “unacceptable” to violate the EU treaty, and the pound slumped further on currency markets with businesses growing ever-more alarmed that the coronavirus-hit UK economy could fall off a Brexit cliff-edge at the end of this year.

The European Commission had previously warned that Britain “has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”, and scorned Downing Street's contention that the bill will preserve the peace in Northern Ireland.

“In fact,” the statement said, Brussels “is of the view that it does the opposite”.

'All certainty has vanished'

With the UK government proposing to effectively override parts of the carefully negotiated and ratified Brexit Withdrawal Agreement concern has been mounting among Britons living in Europe that their futures aren't quite as guaranteed as they thought. 

Campaign group British Europe said in a statement earlier this month that “all certainty has vanished” at a crucial time when Britons around Europe were applying for post-Brexit residency permits and registering as official residents of their EU countries.

“We have been receiving anxious enquiries from our members about what a breach of the Northern Ireland Protocol could mean for the implementation of the citizens’ rights chapter of the Withdrawal Agreement and for their futures,” said the statement

“It is particularly worrying for the hundreds of thousands of UK nationals living in the EU member states which are following the UK’s lead and requiring them to reapply for their status and rights – especially where implementation has not started. France, home to the second largest population of UK nationals in the EU, falls into this category.

“The Member States will rightly now question whether the UK will honour its obligations towards over three million EU citizens living within its borders.

“Levels of trust were already low but this unprecedented act of bad faith towards our nearest neighbours and partners throws 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU under the bus yet again.”

Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the EU Commission “will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments.”

 

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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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