The UK is set to leave the EU on January 31st, 2020 but the two parties have not been able to agree on a deal. A no-deal Brexit remains the default position if the two sides cannot reach an agreement in time for the new "flextension" deadline.
UK citizens have enjoyed freedom of movement in Europe ever since the UK joined the EU in 1973 (known then as the European Economic Area), but will this change after Brexit?
UK citizens will not need to apply for a Schengen Visa like many other nationalities. On February 1, 2019, the European Council said: “EU ambassadors today agreed that, following Brexit, UK citizens coming to the Schengen area for a short stay (90 days in any 180 days) should be granted visa-free travel.”
However, from 2021, UK citizens will not be able to enter the Schengen Area with only their passports. The EU Commission has confirmed that UK citizens will need to pay a fee to visit Europe and will need to complete the online ETIAS application form before setting off.
ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) is the name given to the new travel authorization system which will be a requirement for British citizens and 60 other nationalities who can currently visit Europe visa-free. ETIAS will be a visa-waiver, meaning it will save travelers the hassle of obtaining conventional Schengen visas.
However, the implementation of the law is conditional. Members of parliament also said this arrangement is conditional upon the UK granting EU nationals the same benefits. This means British travelers will only be visa-exempt as long as EU citizens can enter the UK without a visa.
While the UK is still a member of the EU, UK citizens traveling to Europe only need their passport to enter the other member countries. However, this will change after Brexit and, from 2021, ETIAS for British citizens will be a requirement.
The ETIAS visa waiver for Europe is being developed to improve the security and border control of Europe following concerns over terrorism and immigration. It will be similar to both the US (ESTA) and Canadian (eTA) models which have already been implemented.
When people apply for ETIAS, they will be screened using a number of European security databases including Interpol and Europol. Anyone who poses a security threat will be identified and prevented from reaching European soil.
Traveling to Europe from the UK: How does it work now?
At the moment, there is no need for a Europe visa waiver for British citizens. UK citizens have EU passports which means they can move freely and even work in other countries in the region. They only need to show their UK passport to be able to enter any EU country.
The free movement of people is one of the EU’s key principles. Once the UK is no longer a part of the political union, British people will no longer be able to move around the continent as freely as before.
The current Brexit deadline is January 31 2020. At present the proposed Withdrawal agreement struck between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU still has to be approved by parliament. If this does not happen in time for the February 1st 2020 deadline, the UK will either leave without a deal or another deadline extension will be agreed.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the prospect of a no-deal Brexit but according to the UK Government and the EU, British travelers will be able to travel to the Schengen Area with only their passports until ETIAS is implemented.
ETIAS and Brexit are coincidental: ETIAS is not a consequence of Brexit. ETIAS is being introduced to improve the security of the region and the safety of its citizens. European Parliament representatives expressed the need for this system. “By knowing who is coming to the EU before they even arrive at the border, we will be better able to stop those who may pose a threat to our citizens.”
What will ETIAS mean for the UK?
After ETIAS comes into effect, British citizens visiting Europe will have to apply online for an ETIAS visa waiver before departing. The ETIAS visa waiver for UK citizens will be valid for 3-year periods and will allow unlimited entries into the region.
Although British people will need to apply for ETIAS, they will not need to apply for a visa like many other countries. The 61 nationalities which are currently visa-exempt, including the UK, will remain visa-exempt but will need an ETIAS visa waiver.
The ETIAS application should not take longer than 10 minutes to complete and the process will be straightforward. Applicants will have to fill out a short form with personal information, details of their passport and answer some security questions. They will then have to pay a fee.
The confirmed travel authorization should be available to the applicant within a few minutes and the whole process is likely to take a total of 15 minutes although this may vary as the final details have yet to be clarified.
Obtaining an ETIAS visa waiver to travel to Europe will not be optional. It will be highly regulated. Airlines, ferry firms, train operators or coach companies will check that travelers have a valid ETIAS visa waiver before departure. All operators will be required to verify, “that travelers are in possession of a valid travel authorization” Without a valid ETIAS, the traveler will not be able to board their transport to Europe.
If a British person travels to a Schengen country without an ETIAS visa waiver, they will not be allowed to enter the country. The EU said: “at the request of the authorities competent to carry out the border checks, the carriers shall be obliged to return the third country nationals to the third country from which they were transported or to the third country which issues the travel document.”
Claude Moraes, rapporteur for the most recent proposal waiting for approval, said: “With the Brexit clock ticking, it is important to press ahead with this measure exempting British citizens from a visa requirement when travelling to the EU. This will go some way to clarifying EU visa policy after Brexit."
Visa-free deal conditional on UK reciprocity
The European Commission said British citizens will not need visas to visit the European Union for short-term stays. However, this policy recommendation is dependent on the UK continuing to offer reciprocal visa-free access to European Union citizens.
On February 1, 2019, the European Council stated: “According to EU rules, visa exemption is granted on condition of reciprocity. The government of the United Kingdom has stated that it does not intend to require a visa from EU citizens travelling to the UK for short stays".
“In the event that the United Kingdom introduces a visa requirement for nationals of at least one member state in the future, the existing reciprocity mechanism would apply and the three institutions and the member states would commit to act without delay in applying the mechanism” they said.
This means that the current proposals could change depending on the position of the UK’s position regarding the rights of EU nationals. The UK Government has said that Brexit will end freedom of movement but whether this is just tough rhetoric or a realistic policy remains to be seen.