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Brits question dream move to France over Brexit fears

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17:14 CET+01:00
Each year thousands of Brits, up sticks and move to France, but 2016 does not appear to be a good year to fulfill the lifelong dream.

While many of the 300,000 or so British expats already in France fear being left in limbo in the event of Britain breaking off its ties with the EU, at least they are already here.

Spare a thought for those who were all set for the move before the announcement of the June referendum left their plans up in the air.

One of them is Jackie Cox from West Yorkshire, who says the fall in the pound against the euro has already impacted on their plans to move across the English Channel.

“We have already had to cancel an appointment to view one house in France, because the worsening exchange rate means it's now out of our budget,” she told The Local.

“We had been hoping to move to France this Spring but now with the referendum, we just don't know whether to put an offer in or not,” she said.

'If we'd known we'd have moved earlier'

Cox, her husband Darren and her 93-year-old mother have their sights set on a move to Poitou-Charente or Limousin but currency predictors say the pound will continue to fall against the euro as the referendum date of June 23rd approaches.

And two banks UBS and HSBC released studies this week predicting that there would be parity between the pound and the euro in the event that the British people vote to leave the Union.

The volatility of the British pound during the Brexit debate was made clear when London Mayor Boris Johnson's announcement that he would back the leave “camp” prompted an immediate sharp fall in the value of sterling.

All in all it means bad news for those looking to sell up and buy a house in France.

Last year estate agents in France were eager to get the message across that there were bargains a plenty for house-hunters in France.

SEE ALSO: The areas of France the Brits do and don't go

But those moving to France this year are faced with a predicament of whether to buy now, before the pound tumbles further and a Brexit perhaps makes it unaffordable or wait a few months in the hope that a vote to remain will send the pound soaring again.

“If we'd realised the pound would be affected so much we would have brought the move forward,” said Cox.

But it's not just the question of unpredictable exchange rates that is causing doubt to creep into the minds of those British expats hoping to move to France.

While many long term expats in France are confident their rights will not be affected by Britain pulling out of the EU, for future arrivals the issue is not so clear.

“The problem is no one really know what will happen,” said Cox. “People already in France might be protected but what about us? What happens if we buy a property and then we lose our freedom of movement or right to health care, which is a big issue for us?

“There would also be uncertainty around our business and our right to work in France.

“We were really looking forward to find the right house, but now there's question marks all over it.”

London based lawyer, George Peretz QC who already owns a house in France but is also looking to retire in France has similar concerns.

'France could charge for access to health care'

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Peretz, who specialises in EU law told The Local says that in an event of a Brexit: “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.

“Any protection under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties certainly doesn't mean that France would be prevented from (for example) starting to charge UK citizens the full cost of use of its health service, or to require them to get a "green card" in order to take a job or start a new business.

“It also wouldn't stop France imposing new taxes that discriminated against Brits. In my view any UK citizen thinking of living in France has to vote - if they can - to stay in the EU. “

Estate Agents Leggett Immobilier however, say that even though potential buyers have raised concerns about the impact of a Brexit they haven't noticed any slowdown in demand.

“Our personal view is that even if the vote was to leave the EU there would be little in the way of substantial change to UK citizens living in France,” said Trever Leggett.

"We're convinced that the Government will take every step possible to protect benefits in any withdrawal discussions, it's a financial & political minefield.....imagine all these (generally elderly) citizens coming back to the UK and the burden this would place on the NHS."

Has your move to France been hit by Brexit fears? Let us know. Email the editor at ben.mcpartland@thelocal.fr

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