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French in UK: 'Brexit vote is clearly against foreigners'

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French in UK: 'Brexit vote is clearly against foreigners'
The French Bookshop in London's Kensington. Photo: AFP
14:00 CEST+02:00
French expats in the UK shared feelings of anger, fear, and confusion after Britain voted to leave the EU. And they never even got a say.
There are an estimated 350,000 French people in London alone - enough to make it the "sixth biggest French city", as some have claimed. 
 
And many members of the UK's French community weren't too happy to wake up on Friday to learn that their host nation elected to leave the EU.
 
Those who spoke to The Local shared feelings of anger, fear and bitter disappointment.

"What a sad day for the European Union," said Charlotte Buton, a Frenchwoman who has been living in London for the past two years.

"I am disappointed, shaken and angry by this decision because I don't have stable employment, having only recently finished my Masters. I was hoping to build my future here and now I can't stop asking myself if I am going to have to return to France."

"What is going to happen to me? Will I have to leave? Am I going to manage to find a job when the majority of businesses are going to go offshore? Will terrorism benefit from this division?" she asked.

"British people don't realise that this is an error that is going to destroy the solidarity between European countries."

While the impact of the Leave vote may take years to actually affect the French community in the UK, it has still left some questioning whether they should continue living in the UK.

"I chose to live in London and in the UK because I found it to be a tolerant and welcoming country. I was wrong apparently," said Nadege Alezine, editor in chief of French expat news site, bealondoner.com.

"This vote is clearly a vote against foreigners living in the UK and when you no longer feel welcome somewhere, it is probably time to go."

Others shared feelings of a potential fracture among the Brits in the aftermath of the vote. 

"I don't see anything positive coming from Brexit, neither on a social, economic or cultural level," said a Frenchwoman who preferred to be unnamed. 

"I am deeply convinced that British people have voted out of anger and not ignorance of the negative economic impact."

Worried after Brexit? Here's how to become French

Some French people reported having serious worries about their future in the UK.

"It is very difficult for me to express my feeling of incomprehension, frustration and fear," a French Londoner of eight years said. 

"I am deeply saddened by this decision that is dividing the nation and distancing us from Europe. There is a bitter taste in this that I can see no good from. To have to potentially rethink my future in this country is really saddening me."

This view was shared by a Carol Grimes, a Frenchwoman in Kent.

"Personally I am worried that having been in the UK for 27 years, having worked and paid my taxes, I may be asked to either leave or to acquire a resident permit and work permit and that fills me with dread," she said. 

"Also I think now that Britain has voted, I may encounter people who would openly ask what I am doing in their country for as they feel their views have been vindicated," she added.

These fears may seem extreme, but they are not unwarranted, as the result of a Leave campaign which many feel was largely centred around immigration.

After having lived in Manchester for ten years, French woman Delphine was shocked today when at a hospital, a British man shouted at her: "You dirty immigrant, you shouldn't even be here, you weren't born here".

Will Brexit actually be good or bad for France?

A feeling shared by many is one of extreme confusion at what could potentially happen next, particularly concerning employment opportunities.

"Personally I find the result catastrophic, not just for us French in England but for the whole of the United Kingdom," said Morgan Charau in Fulham.

"There is a large French community here. I think that in the long term this will have an affect on employment. I am fearful that the prices in the UK are going to increase even more. It is going to make life here much more difficult."

Despite all these negative emotions, others were more casual about the vote. 

"It's annoying but I am not worried," Marine de Lilla told The Local.

"England leaving the EU will of course see changes which will have an important impact on immigration and the economy but for us French people I don't think there will be a great barrier in continuing to live here or to come and live here, at least not for a few years.

"Personally I am going to carry on going to work as usual and let's just see what happens. People are panicking without knowing anything," she said.

One French diplomat in London tried to ease the worries.

“France and Britain have relationships governed by bilateral agreements. Furthermore, if there is a restriction on social rights, it should not affect our compatriots," the unnamed diplomat told Le Parisien newspaper.

French people can feel slightly reassured by London's mayor Sadiq Khan's message on Friday: "To every European resident living in London- you are very welcome here. As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum".

"We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign - and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us".

by Hattie Ditton

 

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