Theoretically yes; the rights that UK residents have enjoyed as EU members will change from 1st January
There’s been outrage and disbelief on social media throughout the day following the publication of articles in both the FT and Guardian stating “UK holidaymakers barred from EU after 1 January under Covid rules”.
Is this true some readers asked in disbelief, others expressed their scepticism with variations of “fake news” comments and one or two launched into a predictable tirade against the EU, Brexit, Covid, corrupt politicians and the wearing of facemasks……
But the truth is, that a ban on British travellers entering the EU in January is entirely possible should the current rate of Covid infections in the UK remain at high levels.
This is NOT a measure being implemented specifically because of Brexit, but is a consequence of the UK leaving the EU and has been in place almost since the beginning of the pandemic for non-EU nations. Currently there are only eight non-EU members on the list of countries whose nationals are permitted to enter the EU, and the European Commission has confirmed today that there are currently no plans for the UK to be added to that list.
The measures were put in place to prevent movement between EU nations and areas in which high Covid infection rates prevailed, and each member state has the right to amplify the list as it sees fit or create safe travel corridors between specific countries not on the “safe list”.
The EU has the right to close its borders as a measure to protect member states from the potential entry of nationals from other countries where rates of Covid-19 are higher. Many non-EU countries have adopted similar measures, for example, Morocco and Algeria have maintained closed borders throughout the pandemic, this being the reason why Spain has been unable to repatriate the nearly 20,000 irregular migrants who have landed illegally on the Canary Islands during the last few months.
In Spain for example, the national government decides on a monthly basis whether to maintain its existing border closures, which currently permits only members of the European Union, those living within the Schengen area, habitual residents of Andorra, The Vatican, San Marino and a dozen countries which are granted an exception to enter; Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay and China. Currently this closure is in place until the end of December.
When the 12 month transition period ends on 31st December, British nationals are no longer EU members and so have no right to enter Europe unless an exception is made for them.
A spokesman for ABTA, the travel industry trade body, said to the BBC: “The EU has sought to adopt a common approach to travel restrictions, but this is only a recommendation and individual countries are able to implement their own measures, including options like travel corridors and testing.”
“It is too early to say what restrictions might be in place on 1 January given the uncertain nature of the pandemic, but we know that UK travellers are hugely important to a number of EU destinations, including some winter sun favourites like the Canary Islands and Madeira.”
But the decision taken by the UK Government today to close the safe travel corridor between the UK and the Canary Islands in Spain on the grounds that “weekly cases and positive tests are increasing in the CANARY ISLANDS and so we are REMOVING them from the #TravelCorridor list to reduce the risk of importing COVID-19” when the islands currently have an accumulated incidence rate of only 51.83 over the last 7 days isn´t sending out the best message to Spain that the UK Government is looking for a mutually beneficial arrangement.
A spokesman for Airlines UK said: “We expect EU member states that gain enormously from the tourism and air travel from the UK, and the billions of pounds it generates, to continue to apply their own rules, in order to provide certainty to consumers and families looking to travel to the EU from January onwards.”
So their expectation is that EU countries will feel obliged to create safe corridors with the UK in order to encourage the tourism visits of UK nationals; this will of course depend on individual negotiations between the UK and tourism-driven countries such as Spain. However, there are other considerations at play and in Spain the words “Gibraltan sovereignty” certainly can´t be ignored, and nothing can be taken for granted whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues. At the moment, most of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain have closed their perimeter borders to travellers from other areas of Spain for non-essential travel and there is a huge row underway about families/friends being permitted to travel between regions during the festive season to visit. Currently travel to second homes is not even being contemplated between regions of Spain this Christmas and down here in the Region of Murcia residents of two local municipalities aren´t even allowed to cross the local town borders to the neighbouring villages due to the level of covid infections, so nothing can be taken for granted.
Norway, which is part of the EU travel arrangement, said British citizens who do not live in the country will be barred from entering the country from 1st January.
It is entirely possible that this exception can be agreed upon as part of talks between the UK and the EU which are reportedly still continuing until Sunday, but the rhetoric today is downbeat, Boris Johnson saying there is a “strong possibility” of a no-deal and the EU and a statement from the European Commission saying that there is currently “significant uncertainty” about whether a deal would be in place by the 1st January.
However, many British nationals are only just starting to appreciate that as from 1st January their status will inevitably change and the rights we have enjoyed for so many years will disappear.
The point which has received the most coverage during the last few days relates to the 90 day maximum stay rule in Europe; UK nationals will only be permitted to remain in Europe for 90 days before they must leave Europe and return to the UK for a 3 month period. The maximum amount of time permitted to stay in Europe will be 180 days. Again, the individual member nations may grant visas permitting a continuous 180 day stay, but this will be the subject of individual negotiations between each country and the UK and until the exit talks have concluded, no decisions will be confirmed.
This is a nightmare scenario for all those who own holiday properties in Europe and are accustomed to spending the winter months in their second home, to say nothing of the inconvenience for camper van owners who currently enjoy meandering around Europe at their leisure and will now have to assume the high cost of travelling back to the UK after 90 days.
And many British nationals have never even stopped to consider that leaving the EU means they will no longer use EU fast-track passport control and customs lanes but must instead stand in the same queue as the “Non-EU nationals” (that’s the go-slow queue in which there are always queries about visas and passports). Of course, some airports may choose to open additional counters, but again, this will be down to the discretion of each country.
British travellers must now be extra vigilant about taking out travel insurance as the EHIC travel card system will no longer be valid. In the past, British travellers could use the Spanish health service if they experienced an accident or fell ill due to a reciprocal arrangement which will end on 31st December, so it is now essential to ensure that any travel insurance includes health cover.
This is particularly important for second home owners intending to stay for 3 months, who must also ensure that they bring sufficient prescriptions to cover their needs for the time spent in Spain.
It’s also important for those intending to drive in Europe to check that they have an international driving permit or a “green card” from their insurer before hitting the roads in Europe.
There is certainly expected to be a period of confusion and a slightly “messy” first couple of months, particularly if the coronavirus pandemic continues to generate high levels of new cases and if there is a hard Brexit.
The EU has today put out a statement proposing four contingency measures “to mitigate some of the significant disruptions” if a deal is not in place:
The aim of these contingency measures is to cater for the period during which there is no agreement in place. If no agreement enters into application, they will end after a fixed period.
President von der Leyen said: “Negotiations are still ongoing. However, given that the end of the transition is very near, there is no guarantee that if and when an agreement is found, it can enter into force on time. Our responsibility is to be prepared for all eventualities, including not having a deal in place with the UK on 1 January 2021. That is why we are coming forward with these measures today”.
• Basic air connectivity: A proposal for a regulation to ensure the provision of certain air services between the UK and the EU for 6 months, provided the UK ensures the same.
• Aviation safety: A proposal for a Regulation ensuring that various safety certificates for products can continue to be used in EU aircraft without disruption, thereby avoiding the grounding of EU aircraft.
• Basic road connectivity: A proposal for a regulation covering basic connectivity with regard to both road freight, and road passenger transport for 6 months, provided the UK assures the same to EU hauliers.
• Fisheries: A proposal for a Regulation to create the appropriate legal framework until 31 December 2021, or until a fisheries agreement with the UK has been concluded – whichever date is earlier – for continued reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters after 31 December 2020. In order to guarantee the sustainability of fisheries and in light of the importance of fisheries for the economic livelihood of many communities, it is necessary to facilitate the procedures of authorisation of fishing vessels.
“The Commission will work closely with the European Parliament and Council with a view to facilitate entry into application on 1 January 2021 of all four proposed Regulations.
Readiness and preparedness for 1 January 2021 is now more important than ever. Disruption will happen with or without an agreement between the EU and the UK on their future relationship. This is the natural consequence of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union and to no longer participate in the EU Single Market and Customs Union.
The Commission, it says, has always been very clear about this.”
So regardless of whether a deal is struck, change is on the horizon from January 1st and all those intending to holiday in Spain during the first few months of the year should be extremely careful about making too many detailed plans until it’s a little clearer exactly what the situation will be regarding coronavirus, as this could well prevent UK nationals from entering Europe.