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Brexcovid storm approaches

AS WE WRITE, the deadline for meaningful negotiations on the detail of the trade deal between the UK and the EU seems to have passed. The UK Government apparently seeks to deliberately crash out of freedom of movement when the transition period ends on 1 January 2021 - less than 60 days away as we go live. This will end many reciprocal arrangements that were in place when the UK was in the EU, for which there are no replacements yet.

EU flags at a pro-EU rally in London October 2019; Photo: Matt Salusbury

A pro-EU, anti-Brexit rally in London almost exactly a year before publication of this article

Unknowns

A perfect "Brexcovid" storm threatens on 1 January 2021, in which an already miserable pandemic and lockdown would be made infinitely worse by all sorts of arrangements between the EU and the UK we have come to take for granted no longer being in place. There's a lot of these that nobody's even thought about, and that we'll only find out the hard way on 1 January.

In addition, a lot of the supplies of imported medicines and other essentials that the UK stockpiled in anticipation of a no deal Brexit have been used up during this spring's covid "full lockdown".

A government source told the Freelance that it would be a good idea to talk to your GP now about getting a supply of several months' worth of your prescriptions in to cover you after 1 January, if you're aware that any of your medicines or any of their supply chain comes through the EU. (A lot of British pharmaceutical products stopped off in Italy on the way here.) Best also now to order anything by way of consumer goods you might need in the near future that comes from the EU.

Travel

It's probably just as well that the pandemic has made travel to the EU (and back) so daunting that fewer of us are trying it, because Brexit may make it even more difficult, in the short term at least.

Nobody knows for sure whether your UK debit card will still work in the EU after 1 January (including paying items ordered from the UK). If you're considering travel to an EU Member State in early 2021, best get a fistful of euros out in cash now. Ensure your passport is valid for six months after your planned date of return.

If quarantine regulations allow you to travel to and return from the EU (except Ireland, covered by the Common Travel Area with the UK that predates the EU), we're unsure if the ferry, Eurostar or flight you're travelling on to the EU will legally be allowed to arrive or return.

Our source points out that last time no deal Brexit loomed in the months leading up to 31 October 2019, the UK authorities hired a hotel at the airport of at least one EU Member State's capital in anticipation of having to find a way to get its travelling nationals back to the UK somehow (at a time when many more people travelled abroad than do now).

UK nationals will still be able to travel to the EU visa-free for three months, but it's visa-free travel, not work. There are no EU or Schengen Area work visas: you'll have to apply for a work visa for each Member State you'll be working in. If it's a matter of going over for a day trip to take some photos, we've heard you won't get a work visa.

Freelancing in the EU

As reported earlier in the Freelance, it's unclear whether or how self-employed UK nationals resident in an EU Member State will be able to sell their services "cross-border" to a client in another EU country.

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet wrote to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in October, asking for clarification on this "on behalf of members who live and work in the European Union and who would like to continue to do so using experience, expertise and knowledge often built up over decades of Continental European residence, thereby contributing to a healthy and diverse media and cultural landscape - core values of the EU."

Michelle's letter referred to the Withdrawal Agreement's pledge to "limit to a minimum the disruption to people's lives which the UK's departure is likely to cause" and expressed the fear that "the voice of this specific cohort of workers could go unheard."

Banking

As earlier reported, some UK banks are telling their customers who live in the EU that they're closing their accounts, as they won't have (or can't be bothered to get) a licence to operate in EU countries post-Brexit. There's now a "Keep UK bank accounts open for British people living in the EU after January 1st 2021" petition to the UK Parliament circulating - it's here.

Settled status

Most members who are EU nationals living in the UK have already sorted their EU Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status that allows them to live and work in the UK after Brexit. It has now been confirmed that these will not receive a physical document of their status, only a "digital" identity document online.

Those who have not yet applied will need to be able to prove they were resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, and will then have until 30 July 2021 to apply for Settled Status. After that date they risk deportation, as do EU nationals who are "rough sleepers" who are unable to evidence they a resident at a UK address.

French residency bureaucracy

UK nationals living in France who already hold a titre de sejour (residency permit) for France will have to get a new, slightly different version after Brexit. In the event of some sort of deal it will have the new wording along the lines of "UK withdrawal agreement from the EU" on it: the exact phrasing of their new titre de sejour in the event of there being no deal is not yet known. Those who can prove they were in France by 31 December 2020 have until 30 June 2021 to apply for the new version. Details (in English) are here.

An NUJ Paris Branch member who's started their application for the new version of the residency permit reports that the Ministry of the Interior website has online application forms in both French and English. But the English version has some gibberish when it comes to filling in your address, so he recommends using the French-language version for the application.