Dog or husband? Brexit quandaries

Image above: Angela and Jim at their home near Carcassonne

Angela Corden and her husband Jim live part of the year in Chiswick and part in France. Howard, their dog, has an EU pet passport, but in the fevered pre-Christmas days of the EU trade negotiations, the all consuming question was: would Howard have to go into quarantine? What to do?

Guest blog by Angela Corden

“But he’ll never survive in quarantine!” I wailed.

I was having a Christmas/Covid/Brexit meltdown. The subject: when, how and with what documents could we take our dog back to France in January. Howard, our rescue dog, was the first member of our household to get a coveted blue passport. In his dotage he got to travel with us numerous times on his EU pet passport, he got to lounge in the sun half-heartedly showing an interest in geckos climbing the walls.

Alas the days of wine & roses were in the balance for him (& us). Quarantine was in reality looking pretty unlikely, but such was the head of steam that the uncertainty and speculation had created amongst Brits with pets that I admit I lost perspective. That’s the thing with the unknown, the worst case scenario becomes plausible in your head. What will we be able to do? When will we know? How can we plan? Should we book now? Should we wait? When do we get our Covid test? What if?

Images above: Howard enjoying a dip and in the back yard of the house in France

A New Year separation

In the end, as the deadline drew nearer and no further clarity was given we decided my husband and Howard would dash back to France early, ahead of 31 December, using his pet passport and our residency papers (plus, thankfully, a negative Covid test).

I’m not asking for sympathy, I’m aware having a maison secondaire is a First World problem; I’m just sharing with you how it was for us over this strangest of Christmases. The anxiety levels have been rising: Is Jack safe going into work on the train? Will Sophie be OK working with young kids? Will my dad be ok living on his own? Will Jim’s dad continue to recover well? Will my sister-in-law get a break from back-to-back funerals? Will my theatre friends ever work in the West End again? Will my doctor friend and her colleagues get a break from the relentlessness of Covid?

And that’s on a good day! Throw that lot in with the ‘will we/won’t we see one another over Christmas’ nail biter and running Brexit negotiations up to the wire and it was the holy trinity of angst. I think we’ve all had a year of guessing, speculating, hoping, having hopes dashed, grabbing any opportunity for a break in the relentlessness of it.

Images above: The house in France; Jim working on the back yard

Residency status ‘in progress’

Jim and I make up some of the 150,000 Brits who call France home for much of the year. We’re lucky, I know. We bought a part renovated maison de ville (townhouse) in a village 15 minutes from Carcassonne in SW France. It was a decision made post 2016, to keep a foot in Europe, and it was a choice between extending the back of the house in London or having a whole house in Languedoc. Europe won.

We’ve been travelling back and forth with our ageing dog, marvelling in our Europeanness for a few years now. Heck I even call the editor Brigitte – such is my continentalness these days! But increasingly there has been a big old Brexity cloud on the horizon; we felt sure it would shed its burgeoning rain and we’d see a rainbow soon. But no, it seems No 10. style these days is to run things up to the wire.

So much was up in the air for Brits in the EU right up until a few days before the deadline. God knows how hauliers and trade are faring if our community’s worries are anything to go by.

In the meantime the French government had assured us that, by meeting some residential criteria, we could apply online for residency status in France, allowing us to spend as much time as we wanted coming and going. After all, British property ownership in France amounts to €18bn, so their pragmatism makes sense.

Our village mayor, Jacques (bien sur) has assured us that we’re welcome and he will do anything he can to help smooth things through. The British embassy has been posting incredibly helpful videos and myth busters each day to dispel panic & doom. Our neighbours and friends in France want us back too and are always on hand to help.

Images above: A drawing of their town house; Lunch; Howard

Wild asparagus and rhubarb meringue

We found ourselves in lockdown there earlier this year; we had been due back to the UK to see the family but were weighing up what was safe and sane when the choice was made for us. Macron spoke & we stayed put.

Our neighbours and fellow villagers couldn’t have been more kind. Madame Barri (corner shop) left us some wild asparagus she’d picked on her daily walk, Guillem next door left us a dozen eggs from his hens and his wife baked us a rhubarb meringue, Sylvie from across the road made us some face masks.

The mayor wrote to every household to explain the latest laws & health protocols and we discovered everything we could within the permitted 2k walking radius of our house. The vineyards, the river Aude, the foothills of the Alaric mountains, the winding back streets, crumbling old barns, the flora & fauna….

Back then, whilst immensely grateful for what we had, we did allow ourselves to dream of warm afternoons and long lunches with friends – but all that had to wait. And it will have to wait now too. We’ve made it to 2021 with none of our crew overboard. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Sitting tight, watching and waiting

So now I find myself alone in Chiswick with my husband and dog in France. I have some work commitments here in the UK as well as some life admin to sort out before I can join them. Under current travel rules I am able to travel to France, treated as a resident of the country returning home (though Brits who aren’t resident in France cannot travel).

Our residency application is ‘in progress’ but our supporting application documents have demonstrated a commitment to France, therefore we’re effectively given the benefit of the doubt by the French government until the application is rubber stamped and we get our Carte de Sejours.

Everyone I know of in a similar situation either got over before the 31 December to avoid any border confusion or is sitting tight until things become clearer over the next few weeks.

Covid and Brexit-wise. I read with some alarm about British nationals, who were Spanish residents, being offloaded from their BA flights in the last day or so, despite having their rapid Covid tests & all the required paperwork.

The British Embassy have commented to say they were indeed carrying all the correct documentation to be allowed to travel. These people have to re-book their expensive rapid Covid tests, their flights and change all their accommodation plans in Tier 4 London. What a mess.

So I think I will sit tight for a bit. I’m waiting & watching this space….

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: The Brexit effect – What it means to be French in England now

See also: The Three Old Hacks podcast – Britain and Europe, where did it all go wrong?

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