Travel Chaos for UK residents in the EU
The New Year, and the end of the Brexit transition period, has brought travel chaos for UK residents in the EU trying to return home. Britons around the EU have encountered difficulties, with people barred from flights or having their passports stamped, even though they possess valid UK passports, EU residence documentation and PCR tests. The most widely reported problems relate to Spain where many Britons have been refused check-in in the UK or entry upon arrival in Spain because they do not hold the new biometric ID card for UK residents, despite the fact that there is no obligation for existing residents to swap their green pre-Brexit residency certificate for this card. Similar issues have also arisen on entry to France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.
As early as 2017, British in Europe raised concerns about potential problems in the post-transition treatment of UK citizens resident in the EU. We have been raising them ever since - repeatedly over the last month as the second wave of Covid-19 has surged across the EU and its now third-country neighbour. We also raised this issue directly with the Commission, member states and UK government when we participated in the meeting of the specialised committee on citizens’ rights on 15 December.
Despite this, there are multiple cases of British citizens who have been unable to return to the EU states which have been their homes for years between Christmas and New Year because of the misapplication of Covid-19 entry restrictions. Now, one day after the end of transition, we have multiple potential breaches across different EU countries of the Withdrawal Agreement rights of UK beneficiaries.
The Schengen border handbook has been amended with practical details of how UK residents in the EU should be processed as of 1 January. As far as we are aware, however, the relevant information has not yet been made public. In line with the treatment of other third-country nationals resident in EU countries, UK citizens resident in an EU country should be able to enter the Schengen zone – without having their passports stamped - on production of a valid EU residence card or Withdrawal Agreement document.
Unfortunately, it appears that neither national border guards nor the airlines know this, and the rights of hundreds of UK citizens protected by the Withdrawal Agreement have already been breached at this early stage.
We call on the member states to ensure that border guards are fully informed on the Withdrawal Agreement entry rights of UK beneficiaries and that they are implemented correctly and immediately. We call on the EU Commission to monitor this and take action in the case of infringements.
We also need advice on remedies for British citizens denied boarding, for those who have erroneously had their passport stamped on exit or entry and, particularly, for anybody who has been allowed to fly to their host state only to be deported back to the UK. Otherwise, despite having done everything they should have done in line with the Withdrawal Agreement, further British citizens resident in the EU may have problems returning to their homes in their host states or find themselves unwittingly in breach of the 90-day rule at the beginning of April with all the administrative and other problems that this could imply for their residence status.
The lives of UK citizens in the EU have been disrupted for nearly five years by decisions over which they had no control. This is a serious situation when people face problems getting home although they have a clear right to do so. If this is an indication of the problems ahead, the UK government, member states and the Commission need to take this seriously now and get their acts together to make sure our rights are enforced.
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