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FRANCE - UK

French launch ‘Operation Croissant’ to thwart Brexit

French volunteers were in London on Wednesday handing out love letters in the hope of persuading British voters not to leave the EU. But their plan to hand out croissants to British voters was scuppered.

French launch 'Operation Croissant' to thwart Brexit
Photo: AFP

Volunteers from Paris travelled to London on Wednesday to hand out love letters from France aiming to persuade Britons to stay in the EU on the eve of a knife-edge referendum.

Standing outside one of London's busiest commuter rail stations King's Cross, around 15 volunteers from “Operation Croissant” handed out postcards with handwritten messages from French nationals.

“Because what would you do without French kiss?” read one.

Organisers had hoped to distribute freshly-baked croissants with the roughly 500 postcards sending greetings from the city of love ahead of Thursday's European Union membership vote.

But their plans were scuppered by British police, who cited laws banning campaigners from providing food to voters in the run-up to an election because it could corrupt the result.

Organiser Rosa Rankin-Gee said they wanted to make a gesture which contrasted with the often bad-tempered main debate, in which Prime Minister David Cameron is leading the push to stay in.

“We're all aware of how vitriolic the campaign has been and we wanted to do something happy, to make people smile,” said the 29-year-old, who lives between Paris and Britain.

On the postcards, people write about “their love for our eccentricity or our music” or about their families' Anglo-French connections, she said.

Wearing “Operation Croissant” T-shirts, volunteers handed out the messages in the morning rush hour outside King's Cross station.

Some walked on without taking the postcards while others were intrigued by the interest that their French neighbours were taking in the vote.

Kathryn Sygrove, 50, received a postcard which read: “Please don't leave us alone with the Eurovision Song Contest.”

“I've already made my mind up,” she said. “I'm on the side of the croissant.”

Amy Ferguson, 33, who actually works for a company making croissants, said she too had already decided to vote in, but added: “I think it's nice that they have sent us this. I'm touched.”

After a long and often bitter campaign, opinion polls indicate that the race is extremely close.

The “Remain” camp is currently on 51 percent and “Leave” is on 49 percent, according to a poll of polls by the What UK Thinks project which excludes undecided voters.

Rankin-Gee said the fresh croissants which volunteers had brought with them on the Eurostar train from Paris would now be given to a homeless shelter, with no political message attached.

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The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

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The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.

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