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Brexit limbo: What happens next for Brits in France?

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Brexit limbo: What happens next for Brits in France?
Brits won't be forced home, of course, but are forced to live in limbo for a while. Photo: AFP
10:28 CEST+02:00
So what happens now for Brits in France? Nothing too dramatic, but a lot of uncertainty amid legal limbo.

As British PM David Cameron resigned on Friday morning after he failed to convince the British people that it was better to remain a part of the EU, he reassured Brits living abroad “that there would be no immediate changes”.

But his words are hardly likely to soothe the estimated 300,000 British nationals living in France, part of the estimated two million living in the EU.

While no one will be asked to move home or even be made to apply for a visa or residency permit just yet, what is certain is that uncertainty will reign for the next two years, at least.

Cameron declined to trigger article 50 of The Lisbon Treaty which would begin the painful two-year negotiation process for leaving the EU, preferring to leave it until his successor, which could well be Boris Johnson.

That negotiation process, whenever it does begin, will be key to how life will or won't change for Brits living in France and of course the many tens of thousands of French people living in Britain.

So plenty of time to get your French citizenship, if you qualify for it that is.

That deal requires the support of a “qualified majority” of the 27 remaining member states and the UK, so it could be fraught with hurdles.

And given that it will be long and drawn out, there maybe other earthquakes ahead, with several other EU countries openly talking about the need for a referendum.

("Live from the Channel Tunnel on Friday morning", ran the joke on Twitter)

While the “divorce settlement”, as it is being referred to, will focus mainly on budgetary and trade issues, it will also cover the rights of UK nationals in the EU and vice versa.

No one quite knows what the result will be, perhaps because no one really contemplated it seriously enough.

Given so many Brits live in France and so many French live in London it is likely the two countries will come to some sort of deal to maintain the status quo.

However most legal experts suggest even if a deal is struck life will get more complicated. A pre-referendum parliamentary committee concluded that British nationals living in the EU will face years of “ghastly” legal limbo.

The committee's chair, the Conservative MP Lord Boswell of Aynho said: “The rights of some two million UK citizens living abroad would need to be determined, as would the rights of a similar number of EU citizens living in the UK.

“This is complex stuff – you are talking about the right to residence, to healthcare and to schooling, about maintenance payments and access to children, about research projects and contracts that cross borders, sorting all this out would be a daunting task.”

All this will need to be thrashed out in the negotiation process.

EU rules place a legal limit of two years on post-Brexit negotiations, but the committee warned that any agreements between Britain and other member states would likely take far longer to thrash out given the countless obstacles that would lie in the way.

“The long-term ghastliness of the legal complications is almost unimaginable,” Sir David Edward, a former judge at the European Union Court of Justice told the House of Lords committee.

Dina Pardijs from the European Council on Foreign Relations authored a recent study titled “Brits abroad: How Brexit Could Hurt Expats”

She said everything from pensions and jobs to healthcare, education and property will be affected.

If there is a Brexit, it will be their homes, jobs, education, and future prospects that are used as a bargaining chip between a retreating UK and the rejected EU member states.

“In a campaign where facts are in short supply, it is important to know what could change for Brits abroad if we leave the EU.

"Long-time British expats will be unable to vote, but their lives may be radically altered. Everything will be on the table – the chance to work in Europe, to study, and keep easy access to their pensions and to essential healthcare."

One immediate impact of the Brexit on Brits living in France is obviously the dramatic fall in the value of the pound following the result.

Many expats may not be able to hang around for two years in France waiting for deals to be made out as they simply won't be able to afford it.

Unless the pound recovers, their pensions and investments from the UK, which for many older expats offer their only form of income, will be dramatically cut.

Thousands of Brits move to France each year in search of a new life, but they too will have to think again.

The “bargain” properties estate agents have been selling to Brits for years are no longer so affordable to those wishing to sell up back home.

The property market in parts of France, especially those areas like Dordogne and Provence, will be badly hit by the pound tumbling.

Many expats in France spoke of “feeling sick” with shock on Friday morning. While the shock may soon fade, the feelings of worry and uncertainty are unlike to subside for a long time.

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