Brexit: French left asking ‘why is this vote even happening?’

The French will no doubt be glad when the word "Brexit" can be resigned to the past and they can concentrate on other issues.

Brexit: French left asking 'why is this vote even happening?'
The top story in Direct Matin on Thursday.

It feels like Britain’s crunch referendum vote has sneaked up on the French almost unnoticed.

In recent weeks the news in France has been dominated by domestic issues, whether floods, strikes, terrorism, protests or hooligans – so much so that the word “Brexit” has hardly had a look in.

But on Thursday, the day of the crucial vote on whether its neighbours across La Manche will remain part of the EU, Brexit was at the top of most news sites (although only until the latest labour reform protest began to knock it down the order. France clearly has bigger issues).

Even on the day of the referendum itself, however, many news sites felt they had a key question to answer for their readers.

“But hold on, why are the UK even voting on Brexit?” was the headline in one Le Figaro article, a question repeated across other sites.

A sign that many in France don’t quite understand how all this has come about and have to be told that it dates back to 2013 and PM David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum if the Tories got back in to power.

“Ah oui, c'est vrai?” you can almost hear readers saying shock.

Another question the media and economists were frantically trying to answer was the impact a Brexit would have on France.

The French could be forgiven somewhat for choosing to ignore the subject of Britain and the EU after growing tired over the years of the UK constantly making demands on the rest of the bloc or choosing to opt out of treaties and the single currency.

Many had the view that the UK was never really part of Europe anyway.

There was more annoyance and frustration in February when David Cameron headed to Paris to in a bid to win support for his bid to negotiate more concessions from EU leaders that would allow him to campaign for Britain to remain in the bloc.

The French remained wary of Cameron using Europe to solve a domestic crisis in his Conservative party and the message was “we won't risk breaking up the EU”.

Some expressed anger that Cameron had created another crisis in Europe and helped boost anti-EU sentiment in France, when there was no real need.

Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron even accused Britain of “holding Europe to hostage”, or perhaps what he really should have said was the Conservative party.

But on the whole the issue of Brexit was seen as a distraction from across the water. France and Europe had far more important things to worry about, whether it was terrorism or migration.

(Liberation newspaper, one of many trying to answer the questions surrounding Brexit)

Plus the French have always been confident that it was Britain who stood the most to lose if they left the EU.

But then the polls narrowed and suddenly the thought of a Brexit became real prospect in recent days.

President François Hollande issued a late warning to the British public on Wednesday night, telling them the vote will be irreversible and that the UK risked losing access to the single market.

Of course some in France have been watching the fierce and at times hysterical debate in the UK with interest, mostly those, like Marine Le Pen, who have been hoping a Brexit could trigger a Frexit.

But most in France will be quite glad when the whole question is settled, one way or another, to allow France and Europe to move on.

While most are not in favour of Brexit, many may see the positive in either result.

If the UK leaves, at least that will mean the end of having to put up with the British making their demands on the rest and if they stay then at least after having espoused the merits of the EU over the last few months, Cameron should be a little more humble and grateful towards the rest of the bloc.

While there will be many in Britain suffering from referendum fatigue, the French will be equally grateful if the word Brexit can be resigned to the past on Friday.

Let's hope the bookmakers are right and France can start concentrating on avoiding a Frexit from Euro 2016 on Sunday.



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‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres


Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said.