British travellers returning to their homes in Spain wait to speak to airline staff after they were refused entry onto planes, at Heathrow airport – AP
Britons living in EU countries have been barred from returning to them after Christmas in a post-Brexit row over residency.
People trying to return to Spain and Italy after their Christmas holidays were either turned back on arrival or barred from getting on to flights after being told that their pre-Brexit “green cards” were not valid for entry.
The problems began on Saturday when border officials at airports in Madrid and Barcelona refused to recognise the documents despite declarations by the Spanish and Italian governments that they should be treated as valid for entry.
Instead, border officials insisted they would not allow entry to anyone without a new post Brexit photo-ID card, which most British residents have applied for but have yet to receive.
As a result, British passengers were turned back on arrival on at least two flights to Barcelona and had to return to the UK. Passengers on one flight from Newcastle had to fly back without their baggage, which was left at the airport.
The problems spiralled when airlines also started refusing to fly resident Britons back to Spain or Italy without the new post-Brexit foreign identity card. Airlines can be fined if they allow people to fly to a country without the right documentation.
At least nine people were prevented from boarding a BA/Iberia flight from Heathrow to Madrid on Saturday night despite having pre-Brexit “green cards”.
One of them, Patricia Moody, a 69-year-old retiree living in the southern Spanish town of Zurgena, said: “Throughout all the months of negotiating Brexit, we were always assured that nothing would change for us.”
Referring to the airlines and authorities in both countries, she added: “It’s horrendous, and we are suffering because of their incompetence.”
A further 30 people were blocked from flying to Pisa from Manchester on Saturday. They included Dr Caitlin Procter, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence.
Manchester Airport, where some customers were stopped from flying to Pisa in Italy – Anthony Devlin/ AFP
She was told she must have either an Italian passport or a new photo-ID residency card when she tried to board her Ryanair flight on Saturday, even though the Italian government had been “crystal clear” that it would recognise pre-Brexit “green cards”. She also had a copy of her work contract.
“I travelled home to Sheffield to be with my Mum at Christmas. I followed all the rules, and it’s ridiculous that airlines somehow have the authority to decide who can travel,” Dr Procter said. “It’s a rude wake-up to Brexit.
“There are no other direct flights to Pisa for weeks, and I will have to pay £160 again for another Covid test as the one I have won’t be valid from Monday, which is when I am due back at work.”
Dr Procter said she had applied for the photo-ID card but there is a three-month backlog of applications.
Another British traveller reported chaos on Saturday night as he was turned back on arrival at Barcelona. “As we landed and left the plane, we were met by a gauntlet of armed police,” he said.
“All Spanish and Andorran nationals were let through and all other passengers herded like cattle to the side. The police then started checking all the ‘green cards’. It quickly escalated to the police telling everyone they must board the plane and fly back to London.”
The British Embassy intervened on Saturday as the refusal of entry amounted to a potential breach of the Withdrawal Agreement, under which the Spanish government would recognise both the “green cards” and new post-Brexit photo ID cards for entry to Spain.
A Foreign Office spokesman told The Telegraph: “We have worked closely with the Spanish government to resolve these issues.
“The Spanish Embassy in London has re-confirmed today that both the green residence certificate and the new residence TIE card [Photo-ID card] are equally valid in terms of proving residence in Spain, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement.”
The Spanish embassy in London also confirmed that it would recognise the pre-Brexit “green cards” and promised a seven-day grace period from January 4 to allow anyone who could show they had applied for the new photo-ID card to travel to Spain.
Around 300,000 British citizens are registered as permanent residents in Spain, although before Brexit many more had been living full or part-time in the country without officially registering.