No-deal Brexit: Britons in EU could be forced to retake driving tests

Britons living in the EU may be forced to retake their driving test if they do not swap their British licence for a European one before Brexit D-Day on March 29th if there is no deal, the UK government has revealed.

No-deal Brexit: Britons in EU could be forced to retake driving tests
Britons living in the EU may be forced to retake their driving test. Photo: springfield/Depositphotos
There was yet more bad news for Brits living in Europe this week. 
The Department for Transport in the UK revealed that in the case of a no-deal Brexit Britons living in the EU may have to pass another driving test in the country they are living in. 
“In the event that there is no EU exit deal, you may have to pass a driving test in the EU country you live in to be able to carry on driving there,” read the statement.
Brits living in the EU have been told to swap their British licence for an EU one before the (current) official Brexit day of March 29th but the worry is that a backlog of applications may mean processing delays and people may not have the licence they need in time for the deadline. 
If this happens and there is no deal, they may have to retake their driving test. 
But it isn't only those living in Europe who may be affected. 

Euro MPs back Brexit delay in letter to BritainPhoto: AFP

Britons on short-term visits to Europe might have to return to the UK in order to get the right paperwork at the post office, with a no-deal Brexit potentially meaning British tourists in Europe need three types of international driving permit. 
One positive note from the UK government was that British motorists will still be able to drive in Ireland without any additional paperwork. 
But overall it isn't good news for British drivers who can currently drive in all EU countries using their normal licence. 
Additionally, British holidaymakers will need different driving permits for different countries in case of a no deal.  
This is because drivers with international driving permits (IDPs) issued in Britain currently have either 1949 or 1926 permits.
But Britain will have to start issuing a third type for the majority of EU countries that approved the 1968 convention on road traffic and drivers will still need a 1949 version for countries such as Spain, Cyprus, Malta and Iceland.
These permits, which are currently available online for £5.50, will only be obtainable at UK post offices from the end of January. 
There are fears among professional driving associations that the “mess” will cause a lot of trouble for Britons living in the EU as well as holidaymakers. 
“Thousands of expats, many of them elderly, will not relish the prospect of having to retake their driving test in a different country and different language if there is no deal,” the president of the AA motorists' organisation Edmund King told the press. 
King added that drivers without the right driving permits could find that they are turned away at ports, calling the fact that drivers will no longer be able to apply for IDPs online a “backward step”. 
Meanwhile it looks like EU citizens in the UK will have a better deal.
The UK has said it will continue to let EU citizens drive with their EU licence in Britain after Brexit for up to three years after coming to live in the UK and they will be able to exchange their licence for a British one.

Member comments

  1. I applied to exchange my British driver’s licence for a French Licence in April 2018. I have heard nothing….

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”