France temporarily lifts Covid transit ban for British entry into EU

France said on Thursday that it would show “tolerance” for Britons hoping to transit the country to reach homes elsewhere in the European Union, after a sudden breakdown caused dismay for thousands of travelers.

Under stricter Covid rules that went into effect this week, non-resident Britons can no longer drive through France – only those with a primary French residence will be allowed to enter.

Many Britons take the Channel Tunnel from England to France, using the Eurotunnel shuttle service, to take cars from the UK to their homes in other EU countries.

But during the holidays, many returned to the UK to visit family and friends without knowing that France was planning the stricter rules for non-residents.

However, as Britain is no longer part of the EU, it is considered a “third country” whose citizens are subject to the same rules as other nations outside the bloc.

“If they do not have a French residence permit, British citizens are now considered third-country nationals and can no longer transit France on their way to reach their home country in the EU,” Eurotunnel said in a tweet late Wednesday.

P&O Ferries issued a similar tweet warning that “only those with a French residence permit will be allowed to enter France”.

“Compelling reasons”

An official from the French Interior Ministry said it had not changed its list of “compelling” reasons allowing Britons to travel to France, but had clarified its application this month by border police.

“It seems logical to consider them as all other third-country nationals and not to allow their transit to another EU country,” the official told AFP, asking not to be identified by name.

All tourism and professional travel from the UK has been canceled since December 18, when France tries to slow down the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.

On its travel advice website, the British government said that France had indicated that Britons would not be allowed to travel through France “unless they travel by air”.

But “during the holidays at the end of the year”, the border police will show “tolerance” for Britons returning to the EU, said the French Interior Ministry, acknowledging that the trips were taken “in good faith”.

The change, which France had not made explicitly, caught crowds of Britons off guard as they prepared to return from family visits during the holidays.

“I am completely lost. It makes no sense,” Fiona Navin-Jones, a schoolteacher who hoped to return to Belgium, where she has lived with her family for 14 years, told AFP.

They decided to risk their Eurotunnel journey anyway on Thursday, where they were told at the terminal that getting there would depend on the border official.

“I made it so I guess I was lucky!” She said.

Eurostar, the passenger train service used by many Britons to return to their homes in Belgium and elsewhere, also warned users earlier this month about the French rule change.

But it was not clear if they were applied systematically at the three Eurostar stations in England.

“French rules stink”

A Twitter user who was rejected at the last minute by French police when he tried to board the Eurotunnel bus wrote that he could return to Brussels by train.

“The FR customs said they had received the paper in the last few hours which clarified the rule of compelling reasons. They even seemed a little frustrated,” wrote Roland Moore, a PR manager in Belgium.

Paris and London have been in conflict over a number of difficult issues, including fishing and illegal immigration, since Britain’s official exit from the EU almost two years ago.

It made several travelers wonder if the new French policy was the latest skirmish between the two countries.

“Reason has won – but I feel so sorry for families based in Belgium with residence but without a passport,” said Navin-Jones.

“French rules still stink. You can quote me.”

(AFP)

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