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‘We warned you’: Call for urgent action after Britons living in EU denied entry

Campaigners for the rights of Britons living in Europe have called for urgent action after numerous reports of UK citizens being denied entry to the EU countries where they live since January 1st.

'We warned you': Call for urgent action after Britons living in EU denied entry
Britons living in the EU have been turned away from airports. File photo: AFP

In recent days there have been numerous reports of Britons travelling from the UK being unable to return to the countries where they live.

The issues have arisen in part due to Brexit and the end of the transition period on December 31st which brought an end to free movement for UK nationals but also due to the UK's surging Covid-19 rates.

Numerous EU countries imposed strict travel restrictions on travellers from the UK following the emergence of a new, highly contagious strain of Covid-19 before Christmas.

Added to that is the fact the UK is now a “third-country” and so is subject to the EU's ban on all but essential travel to the bloc.

British residents of EU countries, however, have the right to return to their homes, subject to rules on Covid-19 tests and quarantine, but this wasn't the case when several Britons were denied entry to Spain over the weekend.

They were told they didn't have the right post-Brexit residency card – even though Spanish authorities have repeatedly said they didn't need it.

There have also been similar reports of airlines turning away Britons trying to return home to Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.

There have been also reports of British residents wrongly having their passports stamped on entry to their EU home country. With British visitors only allowed to stay for 90-days in every 180-day period, an erroneous passport stamp could cause significant bureaucratic headaches for residents.

Britons living across Europe had been warned that if they travel over the New Year they would need to take proof of residency with them to ensure they would be allowed back in.

But it appears that across Europe there is confusion, with airlines and local border officers appearing to impose their own take on the new rules. 

Campaign group British in Europe has called for urgent action and said it had been warning about the probability of complications.

“This is a serious situation when people face problems getting home although they have a clear right to do so,” the group said in a statement.

“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.

“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. 

“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 group says the problem appears to be that national border guards and airlines are not being kept up to date and informed of the rights of British residents of the EU which are protected under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

As a result, those rights have been “breached” in many cases.

British in Europe is now demanding urgent action.

“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 Local has asked the EU Commission to respond the difficulties facing British residents in Europe.

Have you been wrongly been barred from travelling home to the country you are resident in? Please get in touch and let us know about your experience. Email: [email protected]

 

Member comments

  1. we will be travelling from london to florence on the 8th. january
    as we own a company in tuscany, i am assuming we will not have a problem entering the country, as long as we agree to a 14 day quarantine. also, it is my understanding that we do to need to have a covid test prior to, or after arrival. please can anyone confirm this, or let me know if you have had any problems entering italy after the 31st dec? thank you

  2. It would appear from your own article that it is the UK border patrol which is in ignorance of the rules of the EU member states so I don’t see why the campaign group is addressing itself to the EU Commission.

  3. Stop the lot of them. Their country’s Virus reaction is tragically incompetent, yet many British, with their Inselaffe exceptionalism and arrogance, still think going skiing is a valid reason to travel. The EU should bar all but absolutely crucial travel from the UK and UK citizens with residency rights.
    Time will hopefully make travel easier again, and if and when it does, do it. But right now, it’s a selfish fools errand. Stay put. Other people live on this planet too.

  4. I totally agree with the previous comment. I am British and full-time resident in Italy. I would be horrified if anyone from the UK arrived in my village in Italy at present, whether they have a home or property here or not. We are talking matters of life and death here. People in Europe call this new strain “the English” virus. If you didn’t understand this before you set off from the UK, or decided to travel to the UK and back to Europe whilst the virus is running amok in the UK, I have no sympathy for you whatsoever. You are totally selfish and, as the previous commentator says, arrogant and suffering from a sense of entitlement. I’m embarrassed by some of my fellow countrymen and women.

  5. I would totally agree that a skiing holiday is less than a crucial reason to travel in these frightening and dangerous times we find ourselves in, however, as a Brit who regularly travels between the U.K. and Italy I take great offence at being assumed arrogant and entitled. It’s with great sadness and disappointment that such unprecedented tragedy is now giving some people the misplaced sense of entitlement to pass judgement of other human beings, based on their government’s incompetences, without first taking into consideration valid reasonings behind them risking travel at the moment. It’s almost xenophobic, and wouldn’t it be devastating if that was the legacy of this pandemic?! I would question if it’s ‘really selfish’ to travel having tested negative for COVID 48 hours before travelling and quarantining on arrival in order to support a partner/family member in their time of need. Is it selfish to visit your long term partner? Is it selfish to visit a family member for the very last time? Or indeed is travelling for business purposes selfish? Unfortunately , we can’t all work from home, we can’t all be furloughed and do not all qualify for government aid, but do still have to keep a roof over our heads so have to go where work takes us. Let’s not let this pandemic conquer and divide our compassion, regardless of what country we live in! It’s extremely difficult now as all our patience is wearing thin, but perhaps now is the time for tolerance and we should take some time to consider others circumstances because I can assure you we don’t all travel just for a holiday. Between Brexit and Covid it is a minefield for anyone needing to travel at the moment and I hope that the complications and additional costs have not put further strain on your mental health. Let’s hope better days are coming and that we can hopefully retain some compassion for one another when it’s all over. I hope everyone can keep themselves and your loved ones safe. Just for the record we aren’t all running a mock over here in England either… some of us have more integrity than that and are suffering great losses in order to keep people we love safe.

  6. Pretty simple really. Just instruct the border staff to ask ALL British entrants “did you for vote leave or remain”? If the answer is “leave” then refuse entry and tell the F off

  7. Pretty simple really. Just instruct the border staff to ask ALL British entrants “did you for vote leave or remain”? If the answer is “leave” then refuse entry and tell them F off

  8. I flew stansted to cologne on 1 January and Ryanair did deny some people without covid tests but everything else went smooth. I am British living in Germany and I was given a stamp in my U.K. passport. When I questioned it and showed my anmeldung, he simply said the U.K. has left the EU. I know he believed me to be resident as only residents abs citizens were allowed to enter Germany from U.K. on the 1st.

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BREXIT

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal deal on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

The latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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