France unveils draft law for no-deal Brexit

France is to deploy hundreds more customs officers at Channel ports as it prepares for “the worst” over Brexit (AFP pic)

PARIS: France’s government unveiled draft legislation Wednesday setting out preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit, with authorities already recruiting customs officers to secure the border along the English Channel.

France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau stressed that the legislation was subject to change given that so many uncertainties remained ahead of Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union on March 29 next year.

But the law will cover what would happen to French citizens living in Britain and vice versa in the event Britain crashes out without a deal, as well as how businesses working across the Channel would continue to operate.

“A good deal on Britain’s exit is still possible, but we must prepare for all scenarios, including no deal,” she told reporters.

“We must make sure that in the absence of a deal on March 30, 2019, Britons living in France do not find themselves suddenly with irregular (immigration) status,” she added.

France is seeking a “reciprocal” arrangement whereby London and Paris would treat each others’ expat citizens equally, she said.

The law will also seek to protect the rights of French people returning from Britain in terms of recognising the pension contributions they may have paid there, or academic qualifications they have picked up.

It will further include measures on the movement of people and goods between the two nations — still an issue of huge contention between London and Brussels — including customs arrangements for imports and exports.

“It means we need to recruit customs officers and they already started recruitment,” Loiseau said in a response in English to a question from a reporter.

Budget Minister Gerard Darmanin had announced plans Tuesday to add more customs officers in French Channel ports such as Calais.

French MPs will start debating the bill in early November.

A French government source compared the list of problems sparked by a possible no-deal to “a Himalayan mountain” in comments to AFP on Tuesday.

Such a situation would plunge both Britain and the EU into a legal, logistical and security vacuum.

Without emergency legislation, Britons living in France would suddenly be illegal and the Eurostar train service could no longer operate as its drivers require European licenses.

Some 300,000 French people live in Britain, while an estimated 190,000 British citizens reside in France.

Last month, EU leaders rebuffed Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal for future economic ties, ordering her back to the drawing board just weeks before an October 18-19 summit at which the two sides had hoped to finalise a deal.

The deadlock accentuated fears of Britain crashing out of the bloc next March without a deal, a scenario for which London has already set out contingency plans.