A report by the cabinet office has backed up what many British expats in France are deeply concerned about: a Brexit will mean years of uncertainty and the loss of rights.
The official report, the first by the government into how a Brexit would unfold in practice, concluded it would take the UK ten years to extricate itself from the EU and renegotiate new treaties with member states and other nations.
The study says the doubt will negatively impact on “financial markets, investment and the value of the pound”.
But more significantly, at least for the some 300,000 British expats in France and the 2.2 million thought to be living in the EU, it will plunge their lives into years of insecurity.
“A vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end of a process. It could lead up to a decade or more of uncertainty,” the civil servants who wrote the report concluded.
If the UK public vote to leave the EU, the government would have to trigger “Article 50” of the Lisbon Treaty, which would begin the process of withdrawal and give the UK two years to renegotiate ties with Brussels.
But the government report said any renegotiation would likely take far longer as European countries try to take advantage of any new treaty with Britain.
Top of the list for issues that would need to be resolved in the case of a Brexit would be access for UK citizens to the European health insurance card.
British expats face 'complete limbo'
The British government's Europe Minister David Lidlington carried similar warnings saying on Sunday that “everything we take for granted about access to the single market” would be thrown into doubt.
“Trade deals between the EU and other countries and bilateral trade deals of any type normally take six, seven, eight years and counting,” said David Lidlington.
“Everything we take for granted about access to the single market – trade taking place without customs checks or paperwork at national frontiers, the right of British citizens to go and live in Spain or France – those would all be up in the air. It is massive. It is massive what is at risk.”
The minister told the Observer newspaper that Brits in France and elsewhere would be in “complete limbo”.
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In a letter to The Local France, George Peretz QC, an expert on EU law, pointed out what that "limbo" would mean in reality.
Peretz said a Brexit would inevitably see “UK citizens in France lose all the EU rights they currently enjoy”.
“It's not just the loss of the right to use the French state health services. It goes well beyond that,” said Peretz.
“UK citizens would lose their EU law rights to work, to set up a business, to buy property, to bring family to live with them, not to be deported for trivial offences and so on. France might let them do all those things. But that would be entirely up to France.”
Those in favour of a Brexit however have dismissed all talk of uncertainty and loss of rights as pure fear mongering. They counter that any adverse impact caused by the uncertainty will be offset by the advantages of having independence from Europe.