British Residents Of Spain Refused Permission To Travel
For months, many British nationals and business owners have been deeply concerned that come the end of the Brexit transition period, there would be chaos at our borders with the EU. In the event, the immediate few days after we fully left the EU at 11pm on 31st December 2020, queues and delays were minimal. This was, however, less about the preparedness of businesses and hauliers, and more about the pre-Christmas stockpiling of retailers, and the wholesale avoidance of the ports by logistics companies.
‘Significant disruption’ is expected, however, in the coming days and weeks as the flow of lorries builds back to normal levels and the EU become firmer on their border checks. Away from the ports, however, the first few days of 2021 didn’t go too well for some British nationals who live in Spain. According to media reports, British Airways denied boarding to a number of UK citizens taking their post-Christmas and new year flight back to their home in Spain. It appears that most of the passengers who were refused boarding did, in fact, have the documentation they needed to board, however, British Airways had misunderstood the requirements.
Why Were British Airways Passengers Not Allowed To Fly?
The main reason for the refusal of UK nationals living in Spain by BA check-in staff related to confusion regarding COVID-19 restrictions rather than Brexit. The Spanish government has imposed a restriction on travellers from the UK entering Spain until 19th January 2021. The UK Home Office website currently states, “Spain have announced they will be restricting passenger travel from the UK (by air and sea) from 22nd December 2020 until 19th January 2021 with the exception of Spanish nationals and those legally resident in Spain”. Many of those who were refused boarding were, in fact, legal residents of Spain, and had the necessary paperwork to prove this.
Until 19th January, the only way that a British national can travel to Spain is if they hold an EU residence certificate or a tarjeta de identidad de extranjero (TIE). A TIE is a Spanish biometric residence card. Passengers also need to show a negative COVID-19 test (PCR test) which is no more than 72 hours old on arrival. According to one passenger who had the necessary documentation, he was still not allowed to check-in. James Elliot, who was flying to Barcelona on BA482 Tweeted, “I had all the correct documentation including UK passport, green resident’s card, negative Covid test and was turned away by the check-in manager. Tried explaining that the green card meant I’m a resident of Spain but was told by two BA staff that it wasn’t. Also read out both the UK and Spanish governments websites information with no success. Absolutely shocking seems like I’m not the only one either”.
Another British national with Spanish residency, Stephen Meldrum, who was refused boarding, was later told by a BA representative “looking at what’s happened it does look like you’ve been incorrectly denied boarding today. I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience and don’t underestimate how annoyed you must be feeling. Although it doesn’t change what’s happened, we’d like to rebook you free of charge for travel tomorrow”. In the case of Mr Meldrum who spoke to the Independent, he was unable to travel the following day as this would have rendered his PCR COVID-19 test out of date. This also meant that as he was technically refusing to fly on the next day, he was refused compensation of £350.
In the case of these BA passenger refusals, it does appear that there was a genuine misunderstanding and that those with green residency documents are now able to travel to Spain in the same way as a Spanish national. It also highlights that due to the dynamic border control changes resulting from both COVID and Brexit, some problems are bound to happen, no matter how deeply frustrating for passengers and businesses caught up in the complexity. Responding to the matter, BA stated, “In these difficult and unprecedented times with dynamic travel restrictions, we are doing everything we can to help and support our customers.”
UK Travellers Prevented From Entering The Netherlands
There are also media reports that ten British nationals were blocked from travelling to the Netherlands on 1st January 2021, despite having negative PCR tests. British nationals are currently barred from entering the Netherlands unless they have a genuine essential reason to travel there. The Home Office website advises, “The Dutch Government has announced that from 1st January 2021, non-EU/EEA nationals and nationals of non-Schengen states, including UK nationals, will not be permitted entry to the Netherlands for non-essential purposes due to EU-wide COVID-19 restrictions”. It also states, “The Dutch Government requires all international travellers aged 13 and above travelling by aeroplane, passenger ferry, train and coach to be in possession of a negative PCR COVID-19 test result and a completed test declaration”.
Those who were refused entry were unable to prove that they had an “essential” reason to enter the country. According to a border spokesperson, each person refused entry “had a negative PCR test, but had forgotten the basic rule – that they need to have an urgent reason to come, such as work or serious family issues”. These rules do not apply, however, to British nationals who have the legal right to reside in the EU/The Netherlands.
The situation at our borders is extremely changeable as a result of Brexit and COVID-19 and will remain so for many months to come. It is essential that if you are planning to travel to any country in the EU (or any country for that matter), that you check the latest information before you leave home. New restrictions are being published almost on a daily basis in response to events. We can only hope that once we emerge from the pandemic and businesses acclimate to the new customs regimes, our borders will return to being smooth and free of delay in the near future.