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France tonight suspended a controversial ban on EU-based Britons crossing the channel to return home under tightened Covid rules.
Emmanuel Macron’s government said it would show ‘tolerance’ towards expats transiting through France over the new year as it threatened to spark yet another row with London.
France’s interior ministry had earlier stood by its decision to ban UK citizens living in the bloc from entering France, suggesting it was a ‘logical step’.
But a spokesman later reversed that position, saying that ‘during the year-end holidays’ border police will show ‘tolerance’.
British nationals who live in the EU had last night been turned away from the Eurotunnel and told they were banned from going home via France, although those who live in the country itself are able to travel.
Confusion has surrounded the situation since yesterday as Eurotunnel warned its passengers that anyone with homes in countries such as Belgium, Italy, Spain and Germany could no longer drive or take a train through France to get there.
This will affect those who planned to avoid air travel to return to their homes in the EU after spending Christmas with friends and relatives in the UK.
The French Interior Ministry told MailOnline yesterday that Eurotunnel was wrong and, providing travellers have documentation, they should be free to travel.
But tonight an official told the AFP agency it had clarified the rules allowing border police to admit Britons. ‘It seems logical to consider them like all other third-country citizens, and to not allow their transit toward another EU country,’ the official told AFP, asking not to be identified by name.
France tonight suspended a controversial ban on EU-based Britons crossing the channel to return home under tightened Covid rules. (Above, travellers make their way into the tunnel at the Eurostar terminal in Kent today)
Emmanuel Macron’s government said it would show ‘tolerance’ towards expats transiting through France over the new year as it threatened to spark yet another row with London. (Pictured, in Kent today)
However, the ministry later changed its mind again to allow transit, at least for a few days. The change caused dismay among Britons who embarked on holiday trips ‘in good faith,’ the French Interior Ministry said, acknowledging the ‘difficulties in returning to their country of residence.’
The ban had sparked fury among Britons travelling home.
Fiona Navin-Jones, a school teacher who has lived in Belgium for 14 years, said: ‘French rules still stink.’
Paris and London have been at loggerheads over a range of thorny subjects, including fishing and illegal immigration, since Britain’s official exit from the EU nearly two years ago.
Eurotunnel earlier warned Britons with second homes on the continent that they would no longer be able to travel through France to their homes in countries such as Spain and Portugal
British nationals who live in the EU have been turned away from the Eurotunnel and told they are banned from going home through France due to strict Covid rules. Pictured: Daily new confirmed Covid cases per million people in Britain and France
One senior Tory MP suggested the border confusion appeared to be the product of a mistake rather than a ‘deliberate’ attempt to stop Brits from travelling.
They said: ‘This time it appears to be, frankly, a cock up. But even so, it is another thing that you have to be concerned about when it comes to relations with France.
‘When you consider that the cases in France are much higher than the UK, you could argue that UK citizens transiting through France are actually taking the risk, not the residents of France.’
They said the French border rules throughout the pandemic have been ‘all over the shop’.
Meanwhile, the Government is seeking urgent clarification on the issue and has updated its travel advice for France online.
Non-essential travel from the UK to France has been prohibited since December 18 in a bid to limit the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, but several exemptions have been in place.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office today updated its travel advice for France to state: ‘The French government have indicated that UK nationals travelling from the UK who are not resident in France will not be permitted to transit France to return to their country of residence unless they are travelling by air.
‘We are urgently seeking further clarification from the French government, and in the meantime advise UK nationals returning to other European countries via France to check with their carrier before travelling.’
Reports from Brits attempting to get home to the EU have been mixed with some people reporting that travel on the Eurotunnel has been permitted if they were also travelling with their families who are EU nationals.
But there have been reports from Brits that they had been barred from travelling and told that reaching their EU home was no longer considered a ‘compelling reason’ for transit through France.
Roland Moore, who works as a public affairs director in Brussels, says he was escorted off the Eurotunnel ‘like a criminal’ and handed a piece of paper detailing the new restrictions on British nationals.
He said on Twitter: ‘Tonight I was denied access to the Eurotunnel by the FR customs.
French President Emmanuel Macron, pictured, has introduced new restrictions to help stop the spread of Covid-19 across the country which limit travel through France for British citizens
‘I was told being a Belgian resident (M card holder) was no longer a compelling reason for transiting FR to go home. I was given this document by the FR customs & told to leave.’
In response to Eurotunnel who told him they were not aware of the rule at the time of his travel, he added: ‘Imagine how I felt. Stranded and deserted last night and escorted off @LeShuttle property like a criminal.’
He later made it home by travelling on the Eurostar, which does not stop in France and leaving his car in the UK.
Victoria Arnold, who lives in Belgium with her partner and children, had planned to return home today after visiting her parents in South Wales.
But when news broke about the restrictions, she contacted the Belgian embassy in Paris and was told to gather as much evidence as possible.
She told MailOnline: ‘We are currently in South Wales visiting my parents, who we haven’t seen in a long time due to Covid, having left on December 17 – before the ban on travel came in.
A post today from one Brit suggests travelling home with EU family members is possible
‘We are Eurotunnel frequent travellers and were supposed to be going back to Belgium today via France.
‘However my M card which has replaced the Belgian E card since Brexit is not enough to travel on.
‘I have of course my British passport but I now need to obtain proof the children are mine and to prove my residence in order to travel.
‘It is causing no end of stress as my partner needs to get back to Belgium to work.
‘We called the Belgian embassy in Paris – they said the French border are fed up with all the constant changes.
‘I’ve been told to get as much proof as possible as it’s pot luck if they will let me and my family through or not.’
The family has postponed their return until the new year to give them time to acquire the relevant documents from the Belgian authorities.
Fiona Navin-Jones, a professor who is hoping to return to Belgium where she has lived with her family for 14 years, said: ‘I’m completely lost. It doesn’t make any sense.
‘I no longer have the right to return home,’ she said, adding that the new rules appeared to be ‘using Covid to mask what is really a Brexit issue.’
Meanwhile, many Britons travelling through France said they were able to reach Belgium if they had their M-card – a residency document issued to Brits who qualify as ‘beneficiaries’ of the Brexit agreement – and if they were travelling with a partner who was an EU national.
The document Roland Moore was handed when he says he was escorted off the Eurotunnel due to a rule change by French authorities which barred him from travelling through France
French authorities said anyone travelling through France, including Britons, require ‘compelling reasons’ for their journey.
On the French Government website, it states that ‘nationals of the European Union or equivalent,’ as well as their partners and children, ‘who have their main residence in France or who join, in transit through France, their main residence in a country of the European Union’ are considered to have a compelling reason for traveling from the U.K. through France.
However, Mr Moore says he was presented with a piece of paper by border officials which said the rules had changed.
It stated: ‘From now on, border guards should no longer consider as a compelling reason the fact, for a British national beneficiary of the [Brexit] withdrawal agreement residing in a Member State other than France, to transit through France to regain his domicile.’
But, as baffled passengers expressed their anger, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Paris told MailOnline last night that reaching a home in an EU country WAS a ‘compelling reason’.
The line he quoted said compelling reasons included ‘a third-country national (UK included), [or a] holder of a valid French or European residence permit or long-stay visa … who joins, in transit through France, his main residence in a country of the European Union or the like’.
To add to the confusion, today, a French Interior Ministry official said it had not changed its list of ‘compelling’ reasons enabling Britons to travel to France, but had simply ‘clarified’ their application this month by border police.
‘It seems logical to consider them like all other third-country citizens, and to not allow their transit toward another EU country,’ the official told AFP, asking not to be named.
Confusion: Eurotunnel’s operator said Britons are banned from travelling through France to their homes in other EU countries, however, the French Interior ministry insists this is not true
According to French officials British nationals with a home in another EU country, such Belgium, Germany, Spain or Italy will require evidence of their home, such as a residency permit, tax forms, or utility bills.
However, the implementation of these rules has led to growing confusion.
It follows President Emmanuel Macron’s government imposing new restrictions to try and control spiralling Coronavirus cases in France.
From Friday, wearing masks on the streets of Paris will be mandatory.
Local authorities will levy a €135 for people without a face covering.
Earlier, Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers France was seeing a ‘tsunami’ of COVID-19 infections, fuelled by both the Delta and Omicron variants of the disease.
Mask-wearing is already mandatory inside public buildings and public transport across France.