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EU may require visas for British travellers

Politico, Jun 21

The European Commission is making plans that could mean British citizens need a visa to enter the EU after Brexit, according to a document seen by POLITICO that was presented to MEPs.

The proposal is among a list of amendments to laws and regulations in a document entitled “Pending and planned legislative proposals for the purposes of Brexit preparedness” that was presented by the Commission’s powerful Secretary-General, Martin Selmayr, to MEPs on the Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

Whether it comes into force, or an alternative that would exempt UK citizens from visa requirements, will depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. But Selmayr told MEPs that the legislative changes, in eight different policy areas, are needed for the EU27 to avoid disruption in the aftermath of the UK leaving the bloc. That could happen suddenly in March 2019 in a chaotic no-deal scenario or in January 2021 after the transition period that has been already been agreed in principle by negotiators.

On visas, the text proposes a change to a Commission regulation on the EU’s visa policy for third countries to “place the UK on either the visa required list of third countries or the ‘visa free’ list.” An EU regulation is a binding legislative act that must be applied in its entirety across the EU.

Until the withdrawal date and during the transition phase, the current immigration arrangements for British nationals will continue, meaning that they will not need a visa to enter another EU country and can continue to travel freely within the EU using their passport. But after the transition, the situation of UK nationals traveling to Europe is still unclear.

Brexit-supporting Conservative MP David Jones, a former minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, said that requiring UK citizens to produce visas would be “extraordinary.”

“Many third countries enjoy visa-free access to the EU and given the UK’s historical links, one would not expect the EU to adopt such an apparently perverse position,” he said.

Whether the amendment requiring visas for UK travellers is triggered will depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations in Brussels on the future relationship between UK and the EU. But Selmayr’s document shows that the EU is making plans for a reintroduction of visas for UK citizens. In practice, that would mean adding “United Kingdom” between Uganda and Uzbekistan on the 2001 visa regulation that sets a list of countries that are subject to visa requirement.

However, the EU could also decide that UK nationals should be exempt from visa requirement “for stays of no more than 90 days in any 180-day period.”

An EU official with knowledge of the Brexit negotiations told POLITICO that the Commission’s visa proposal would have to be agreed by the two co-legislators, the Parliament and the Council.

The proposal is separate to a new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias), that is likely to come into force in 2020 and will impose “a travel authorisation fee of €7” on travellers from visa-exempt third countries.

The Selmayr document also contains proposals to “design a new maritime route to link Ireland with the continental part of the North Sea-Mediterranean corridor” to facilitate trade between Ireland and the rest of the EU27. It also proposes legislative changes on standards for “ship inspection and survey organisations” and adjustments to 2030 energy efficiency targets in the absence of the UK

It also lays out proposals linked to Brexit that have already been adopted, like the apportionment of tariff rate quotas between the EU27 and the UK, and the European Medicines Agency’s move from London to Amsterdam.

The Commission’s Brexit Preparedness Group, which is made up of 12 civil servants, works directly under Selmayr’s authority and is tasked with drafting notices to stakeholders “on the legal and practical implications of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.” An EU diplomat said some major European companies also consult the group to elaborate their own preparedness strategies.

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