The Government of France Thursday announced it had decided to show some “tolerance” for Britons wishing to return to their homes elsewhere in the European Union, thus reversing a surprise ban that affected thousands of travelers on the grounds that they were no longer citizens of the EU and deserved no special treatment.
Under tougher COVID-19 rules effective this week, non-resident Britons could no longer drive through France. Many Britons take the Channel Tunnel from England to France, using Eurotunnel’s Shuttle service, to take cars from the UK to their homes in other EU countries. But over the holidays many returned to Britain to visit family and friends when they learned about France's decision on non-residents.
“Unless they hold French residency, British citizens are now considered third country citizens and can no longer transit France by road to reach their country of residence in the EU,” Eurotunnel said in a tweet late Wednesday.
But France said Thursday (Dec. 30) it would suspend the new rule, which had caught thousands of travelers off guard. “During the year-end holidays” border police will show “tolerance” for Britons returning to the European Union, France’s Interior Ministry said.
Under the stricter COVID-19 travel rules effective since Dec. 28, only Britons whose official primary residence is in France were to be allowed in. The change had 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.”
A French interior ministry official said it had not changed its list of “compelling” reasons enabling Britons to travel to France, but had 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 said, asking not to be identified by name. All tourism and professional travel from Britain has been suspended since December 18 as France tries to slow the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
On its travel advice website, the British government said France had indicated that Britons would not be allowed to transit through France “unless they are travelling by air”. But “during the year-end holidays” border police will show “tolerance” for Britons returning to the EU, France’s Interior Ministry said, acknowledging that the trips were taken “in good faith”.
Eurostar, the passenger train service which many Britons use to return to homes in Belgium and elsewhere, also warned users earlier this month about the French rule change. But it was not clear if they were being systematically applied at the three Eurostar stations in England.