Eurotunnel Chaos: Have Brits With Homes In The EU Been Banned From Driving Through France? Here's What We Know

·6-min read
<strong>Freight and passenger traffic makes its way towards the Eurotunnel.</strong> (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe via Getty Images)
Freight and passenger traffic makes its way towards the Eurotunnel. (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe via Getty Images)

UPDATE: France suspends travel ban for Britons driving across France

Confusion reigned on travel through France from the UK as British nationals who live in the European Union have been stopped from travelling to their homes as part of efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The UK government is urgently seeking clarification amid conflicting reports about French border guards prohibiting driving through the country to reach homes in Belgium, Italy and other countries in the bloc.

As uncertainty continued amid an Omicron-fuelled spike in infections either side of the English Channel, commentators blamed Brexit – not just the pandemic – for the border chaos. Here’s what we know.

What has France ordered?

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 move affected 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.

On Wednesday, the operator of the English Channel rail link, which is owned by Paris-based Getlink, sent alarm bells ringing as it issued an “urgent” warning that British citizens “can no longer transit France by road to reach their country of residence in the EU”.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, which operates vehicle-carrying trains between Folkestone and Calais through the tunnel, said the decision was made by the French government on Tuesday.

It advised passengers to visit the website of the French embassy in the UK, although its travel information has not been updated since December 20.

The firm added that it is “unable to answer individual questions regarding the new requirements”.

P&O Ferries has now made a similar announcement, and fellow ferry company DFDS said it was “waiting for confirmation from the Department for Transport and will keep its passengers informed through the usual channels”.

People left ‘stranded’

The lack of communication on the rules from French authorities has left British families stranded and confused.

The British Embassy in Belgium has tweeted that it is aware that “some British nationals seeking to return home to Belgium from the UK by road via France are experiencing difficulties” and it is “urgently seeking clarifications from the French government”.

To add to the confusion, British nationals travelling through France to their homes in Belgium by the Eurostar train service have reported no problems reaching their destinations.

Roland Moore, a British public affairs director based in Brussels, said he had been denied access to the Eurotunnel by French border police after being told being a resident in Belgium was no longer a “compelling reason” to transit through France.

Does Brexit matter?

The apparent change of border policy inevitably fuelled on online row about Brexit.

The UK withdrew from the EU on January 31 2020, although a transition period was in place until the end of that year.

So where do we stand?

Various media have been briefed on the situation – though that appears not to offer much by way of clarity.

An Interior Ministry spokesperson in Paris told MailOnline on Wednesday that Eurotunnel’s statement was wrong and travellers could enter the country provided they had the correct documentation.

But a source at the ministry told the Daily Telegraph they could not confirm nor deny the changes as discussions were taking place on the matter at the prime minister’s office. The newspaper also reported a source at Eurotunnel appearing to brief against the ministry. “We were notified by our customers of the change, not by the French government,” they said.

Meanwhile, an anonymous ministry official told Agence-France Presse the country had not changed its list of “compelling reasons” enabling Brits to travel to France since new rules were introduced, but “clarified their application” 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 said.

However, the Guardian reported a list of valid “compelling reasons” allowing travellers specifically from the UK to enter France published on December 16 includes EU citizens living in France, or transiting through France to reach their home in an EU member state.

Eventually, a change of policy ...

UK nationals will be able to pass through France as they return home to EU countries, it was announced late on Thursday.

The UK government’s advice, as published on its website, says: “The French authorities confirmed on December 30 that UK nationals who are resident in other EU member states and who have travelled to the UK for the Christmas period will be able to transit France over the New Year period in order to return home to their country of residence.

“Transit for less than 24 hours in the international zone of an airport is listed under ‘essential reasons’ to travel.”

A spokesman for the French interior ministry confirmed the policy reversal, AFP reported.

According to the outlet the spokesman said: “A large number of British nationals residing in an EU country have travelled in good faith to the UK for the festive season and are experiencing difficulties in reaching their country of residence.

“Faced with this situation, instructions of tolerance have been sent to police officers at the borders with the United Kingdom, in order to allow these nationals to transit through France to reach their residence in a country of the European Union, after this Christmas and New Year period.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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