The bilateral deal was agreed in principle when French president Emmanuel Macron hosted UK prime minister Rishi Sunak at a summit in March, and the detailed plans were put before the UK parliament on Thursday.
The UK has long been a popular destination for school trips from France, allowing pupils to practice their English and pre-Brexit around 10,000 trips a year were organised by French schools. School trips contributed around £100 million per year to the UK economy, according to travel companies.
However that number plummeted following the end of the Brexit transition period when new rules for travel came into effect.
“I wanted to do trips, but I gave up. It’s dead,” middle school teacher Murielle Bourré told local paper La Voix du Nord in December 2022.
The travel changes include EU citizens needing a passport to enter the UK – rather than an ID card – while any school pupils travelling from France who are not EU citizens are required to get a visa.
Around half of French people do not have a passport, since they can travel freely within the EU Bloc with the national ID card, and teachers reported major headaches when organising trips.
Several schools that have pupils who are not EU citizens put a halt to UK trips, since they were unwilling to leave behind some pupils, or require their families to undertake the visa process (which involves a £100 fee and a trip to the British Embassy in Paris).
The new UK legislation will allow school groups to travel with ID cards only, and will exempt non-EU pupils from the visa requirement.
British Ambassador to France, Dame Menna Rawlings said: “My first-ever overseas trip was on a school exchange to France when I was 13 years old. With France, it was love at first sight, and the start of a life-long adventure of travel and exploring different languages and cultures.
“So I’m delighted that we are easing the travel of school groups to the UK in line with mutual commitments made at the March Summit between our Prime Minister and President Macron.
“This will help to refresh our people-to-people links, which are the beating heart of UK-France relations and our renewed Entente.”
The UK government specified that the new rules will come into effect on December 28th 2023 and will apply to people aged 18 or under, studying at a school or educational institution in France registered with the French Ministry of Education and seeking to enter the UK as part of a school party of 5 or more pupils organised by that school or institution. Visa national children who are part of these groups will also not need to obtain a visa prior to travel.
The rules for other French people travelling to the UK will remain the same – an ID card is no longer accepted, only a passport.
At the time of the Macron-Sunak summit in March, The Local spoke to former British ambassador to France, Lord Peter Ricketts, who said he hoped the summit was the start of an “easing up” in UK-France relations.
He added: “But it’s the start of the UK and France trying to find limited areas where they can make improvements that will aid people’s lives, without setting a precedent for the rest of the EU.
“I think school trips was chosen because it is a sector that was hit particularly hard by Brexit, but also because it’s something that only really affects France and the UK.
“The market is not entirely, but very largely between the UK and France – coach parties going back and forth – so that’s an area in which France can do a deal without getting across other EU countries.
“I think the French are walking a bit of a tightrope because they are equally aware that in some areas what they do will set a precedent for other EU countries and they are being careful not to make concessions to the UK, effectively, in areas that could then involve other EU countries having to do the same thing.
“For example we know that there has been a lot of problems for British musicians who want to tour Europe and now find they need all sorts of extra paperwork – in that case a UK-France deal perhaps wouldn’t be particularly helpful because most people will want to tour other European countries as well.”
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