Brits in Europe: “You’re on your own, mate!”

The failure to evacuate UK citizens in the Sudan by the UK Government and Foreign Office should come as no surprise to UK residents living overseas.

It may however come as a bit of a shock to passport holders in the UK.

For some very strange reason neither the UK Government or their Foreign Office consider it their duty to go to the aid of UK passport holding citizens abroad, so UK travellers beware when booking your next foreign holiday.

However, the “gruesome twosome” do believe that they have a duty of care to their staff working overseas and therefore pull out all the stops to ensure their safety. Where, however, they draw the line and on what basis they draw the line between the two groups of passport holding UK citizens is an anathema to me.

My first encounter of this peculiar rule was within my first six months of living in France and the Anglican Church group that I belong to was contacted by a local Mairie who had deep concerns over the mental health and isolation of an elderly British and UK passport holding brother and sister.

This couple had lived in France for odd periods of time for some years and were well known to their community. They had decided to retire to France but unfortunately had begun to develop a form of dementia. The end result of this situation had left concerns for their welfare and ability to look after themselves.

The Mairie had put in place a weekly delivery of food, notification to the couples doctor of their situation and frequent visits from the Mairies’ member of staff responsible for social welfare, plus of course frequent visits from myself and a colleague.

We knew little about this couple and started a background search for relatives in the UK. It was discovered that no such relatives existed and in addition we were unable to find their passports. The British Embassy in Paris was contacted for advice and assistance. We were informed that they were not responsible for assisting UK citizens who had mental health issues and that we would have to reapply for new passports through the normal channels, end of help and advice.

Luckily for all concerned, the Mairie of the Commune stepped in and alerted the French welfare department who came to their aid. Over a period of several fraught months trying to contact the UK social services (who were also unable to help us) the brother unfortunately died.The sister was left in a house with minimal heating and an inability to fend for herself, apart from all our frequent visits and cooked food. The French state then moved in to help, made her a Ward of Court and found a place for her in a retirement home, provided money for this process to ensure her safety and well being. She lived contentedly for another four years until her death in April 2022. Needless to say we had no further communication from the British Embassy.

We had however discovered the name of the couple’s solicitors on the Isle of Wight and I approached them for information and assistance. I was told that they were unable to help me because of Brexit and I would need to pay £1,000 into their customer account before they would consider helping me. My disappointment and disbelief in the lack of any moral concerns for two British passport holding subjects living abroad, who were in trouble left me dumbfounded.

So I was not surprised by the chaotic process of Brexit and trying to find where British passport holding UK citizens were living in France by the British Embassy staff to ensure that they were updated with the Withdrawal agreement process.

I am now certain they used the same principle as the party game of pinning the tail on the donkey.

The UK, unlike France, does not keep a register of their citizens when they move abroad, they do not have a member of Parliament responsible for the welfare of UK citizens and passport holders living in a foreign country as do the French and other European nations.

You are “on your own mate” – “learn to live with it, you chose to move abroad and be a traitor to your country by leaving it” would nicely sum up the situation.

This is not the case with France, who deem themselves responsible for their citizens’ welfare and safety wherever they are.

The Sudan escapade merely proves the point.


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