Thousands of British citizens in France have been left without a valid driving licence, or face losing theirs within months, because of bureaucratic overload and the failure of the two countries’ governments to sign a post-Brexit reciprocal agreement.
“I’d say there are 3,000 who are seriously worried – for whom this has really become nightmarish,” said Kim Cranstoun, who moved permanently to France three years ago. “Commuters risk losing their jobs, tradespeople can’t work, elderly people have missed medical appointments. Many British people in France live in quite remote, rural areas, with little or no public transport. Some are thinking of moving back to the UK. It’s quite desperate.”
The French government announced late last year that, as a consequence of Brexit, British residents of France would need to exchange their UK licences for French ones, and would have until 31 December 2021 to apply to do so.
Short-term visitors and tourists in France can continue to use British licences.
However, those applying to exchange their licences since January have had their requests systematically rejected by a new French online system, known as ANTS, on the grounds that no reciprocal licence agreement is yet in place between the UK and France.
Driving in France without a valid licence can result in a fine of up to €15,000 (£12,808), while taking the French driving test instead of swapping licences entails mandatory lessons and a daunting French-language theory exam, at a cost of about €1,800.
Government sources suggest a UK-France reciprocity agreement is “close to being sealed”, but not there yet. The problem has been compounded by administrative overloads at the centres in Nantes and Paris that processed earlier paper exchanges, but became swamped by more than 100,000 applications during 2018 as a possible no-deal Brexit loomed. This prompted France to drastically limit applications by decreeing, in April 2019, that UK driving licences were valid for as long as Britain was an EU member, and requesting holders not to try to exchange their licences unless they were expiring or lost. It seems that UK licences “will continue to be recognised in France until 31 December 2021”, but the rules for exchanging licences have not been confirmed
Many Britons duly waited until after the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 to begin the process, and now find themselves with licences that have expired and are unable even to start exchanging them.
“People followed both governments’ instructions, and are now being punished through no fault of their own,” said Cranstoun. “This is having a massive impact, on working people and pensioners. Unless it’s sorted, we’ll have to take French tests.”. (Jon Henley Europe correspondent, The Guardian, Tuesday, 30 March 2021)
My comment: The EU is not about to make it easier to leave the bloc. We knew this years ago, and I personally, sympathize with the French. So the French driving may be scary, but their test is exhaustive, by reputation. You might have no choice, fellas. Blame the Brexiteers.