No Way To Say Goodbye
I received a voicemail message today from the UK government’s Isolation Assurance Team (IAT), to make sure I was self-isolating after arriving in the country from France, eight days ago.
I didn’t answer the call as it was an 0300 number, which are always suspicious in my mind, and in any case I was back home in France, and had slipped through the net; this horse had already bolted, with his wife, cats, bikes and bed, across the channel and back into the EU, thank you.
We stayed in the UK for seven days. After five days we took a COVID test, which came back negative, allowing us to release ourselves from quarantine, get on with clearing the house, and travel back across the channel.
It was a risk as we were not sure what kind of reception we would receive at the UK Border Control, who are not the friendliest bunch at best of times. The official guard looked bored and waved us onto the next window where a Eurotunnel ‘exec’, with the appearance and demeanor of a retired school caretaker, was awfully apologetic about the delay while he checked our COVID test result through a pair of cracked reading glasses.
On the French side a couple of friendly teenage guards, gleefully waved us on, untroubled as to why we were travelling to France during a pandemic, as long as we had a negative test and a ‘Attestation-Deplacement-Du-Royaume-Uni-vers-la-France (Anglais)’ or ‘TRAVEL CERTIFICATE TO FRANCE
FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM’ form stating the reason why we travelling and declaring we weren’t infected with the dreaded UK variant of COVID.
The fact that we had our bikes on a rack at the back, a heaving roofbox and a a car absolutely packed to the hilt, was irrelevant at both checks. I at least expected a sarcastic comment from the British side along the lines of: ‘A little early in the year to be going on holiday, is it not, sir?’
At worse, I was expecting to be turned back, or the car turned over and illicit goods confiscated like the extra mature cheddar cheese and tins of marrow-fat peas we were taking back for Dave, our friendly estate agent.
Nothing. We were free to travel in France, back to our home, with our cats, as European citizens. We really were going for good. The rest of our belongings were in storage and would be following us, but for now we were free; we had taken a huge gamble on coming back when we did, but we had got in and back out, lawfully, in our opinion, and we couldn’t quite believe it was so easy.
On the IAT’s website it says each traveller can be called up to three times on subsequent days and be then potentially be sent a text to check your whereabouts.
‘If the traveller is not complying or cannot be contacted, then they are referred to the police through the Border Force Criminal Justice Unit’.
The second time they called I answered and confirmed I was self-isolating, which I was, but in a different house in a different country. The person in the call centre never bothered to ask if I was at home, and I never bothered to tell her I had gone back to France.
Should the police choose to follow up they will find the house is empty. We didn’t stay isolated the full 10 days because we didn’t trust the government’s advice — and there was also a looming threat of France and the wider EU countries closing their borders completely to travellers from the UK, especially with a new UK variant of the coronavirus, on an already deadly UK variant, been discovered.
To be stuck on the island while it licks it self-inflicted Brexit wounds, with the highest coronavirus death rate in the world and shortage of food in the supermarkets, was not an option we could tolerate and we have no regrets on leaving.
We packed the car in the morning in the middle of storm Christoph, no farewells or leaving parties, the cul-de-sac where we had lived for almost six years was deserted, as if the deadly plague had wiped out the community in the night and we were the only survivors.
It was a cold and bleak ending to our tenure in England, and no way to say goodbye. It felt as if we had somehow left in disgrace, under a metaphorical as well as meteorological cloud, and we both confessed to feeling guilty as well as apprehensive as we headed for the Eurotunnel at Felixstowe, passing the HGV customs checkpoints on the M20 and admiring yet more senseless Brexit bureaucracy … and ‘they’ complained about the EU’s laws and regulations.
With the rain lashing at the windscreen, the cats yowling in the back, we could only hope for better weather and a lifting of our mood as we headed back home to Culan.
Our old, but reliable Peugeot estate, struggled with the weight and the howling gale outside but we felt safe inside surrounded by our most important worldly possessions, knowing we were going for good.
When we left on 30 December 2020, we were still part of the European Union. This time we had to buy a black and white magnetic GB sticker for the back of the car as the EU version that came with the number plate is no longer valid.
The French Border Police also stamped our passport this time, even though technically we had become residents before the end of the Withdrawal Agreement, and no should action should be taken.
Stamps should only be used to check that a visitor is not overstaying their rights to remain in the Schengen area no more than 90 days in any 180-day period.
Our next hurdle is to get our residency application submitted and the passport stamp annulled so we can remain in France forever.