Brexit fears: Spare a thought for the French in the UK

For this morning's Thought du Jour The Local's Ben McPartland suggests we should take a moment to reflect upon the very real and under-reported worries of the 300,000 French expats in the UK as they consider the possibility of Brexit and yet don't even have a say on it.

Brexit fears: Spare a thought for the French in the UK
French expats fill Trafalgar Square in London as the National Gallery is lit up with the Tricolour flags. Photo: AFP

While Brexit angst has mainly focussed on the worries of British expats abroad we should not forget the hordes of French living in the UK, who are just as jittery.

While no one quite knows exactly how life will change for Brits living in France and the rest of the EU if Brexit does happen, most analysis suggests things will certainly get more complicated for us even if it won't quite be the end of the world.

And the same can be said for the French in the UK and all other 2.3 million EU nationals in Britain. 

And what’s worse, none of them can actually have a say in the June 23rd vote that could have a big impact on their lives in London's French heartlands of South Kensington or Kentish Town. Unless they have taken up British citizenship.

At least the British government is good enough to allow us British expats the chance to have our say, as long as we haven’t betrayed the country and committed treason by being away for 15 years or more.

Despite being resident in the UK for many years and paying taxes into UK coffers for many years plus innumerable other contributions to Britain, the estimated 300,000 French don’t get to vote.

Oh, but citizens of 54 Commonwealth countries can cast a ballot. So an Australian on a gap year to the UK can have a say on Britain’s future in Europe, but a Frenchman who has lived in the UK for 15 years and who is directly affected by a Brexit cannot.

C'est n'importe quoi!

Understandably the French are cheesed off, not just by not being able to vote, but by the fact the referendum is even taking place.

“Generally the French in London do not understand why [the British] would take such economic risks,” Manon Variol from the community website France in London told The Local.

“Citizens are going to vote for a change that they don’t really know enough about. The UK could lose large investors but also valuable knowledge that is shared via freedom of movement.

“It will be harder to travel to Europe and work in other countries,” she added.

Respondents to a survey by the community website France in London reflected the worries of French expats in the UK.

While some talked of gaining British citizenship, others said they intended to leave the UK if the UK left Europe.

“If Brexit is adopted I will return to France, even though I have lived in the UK for over 20 years,” said a Frenchwoman named Celine.

“Freedom of movement is extremely important and I will not accept to be limited in one way or another,” she added.

So if the UK chooses the way of Brexit many French may opt for the highway or the autoroute back home.

And who could blame them. 

If you have a Thought du Jour on anything, absolutely anything, France or French-related that you want to share with our readers, we'd be happy to publish it. Email [email protected] 

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France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport.