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British businesses in France told to keep calm and carry on

While those involved in British businesses in France could be forgiven for feeling jittery after Friday's Brexit vote, the official advice is to keep the stiff upper lip and carry on as normal.

British businesses in France told to keep calm and carry on
Brits celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday at the British embassy in Paris. Photo: UK in France/Flickr
There are more questions than answers in the wake of Friday's historic Leave vote, not least among British business owners in France.
 
But the official advice is to continue as normal, at least according to Olivier Campenon, the new president of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce.
 
“The message they should give to the clients and employees is that it is business as usual. We need it to continue because at the moment nothing is clear,” he told The Local.
 
“A lot of expats have contacted us wondering if they will need visas to stay in France and the French in London are also worried, but from a business situation it's slightly different and they need to make sure they don't panic.
 
“Let's leave the political questions to the politicians and let's carry on doing business.”
 
He added that anyone thinking of setting up a business shouldn't be deterred, and advised them not to overreact about currency conversion concerns. 
 
“I'd like to be optimistic that good sense and good business sense will mean that in the future there will continue to be free trade between France and the UK as exists today,” he said, adding that the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce would continue to defend the interests of its members.
 
Mixed reaction from the French as UK votes for BrexitPhoto: AFP
 
The advice might not do much to ease the concerns of those with businesses, however. 
 
Micro entrepreneur Lucy Heber-Hall said she couldn't help but think of the “nightmare scenarios” that come with the UK voting out. 
 
“I have absolutely no idea at present how the Brexit vote will affect my status as micro entrepreneur and if in fact I'll be allowed to continue with it or not,” she told The Local. 
 
Potentially losing her business, she said, could have serious consequences for her family. 
 
“What on earth happens if I can't continue my business or find a little job to tide us over because I need a work visa? As far as I'm aware, in order to get a work visa you need to be quite 'high' up in the professional status like a nurse or a doctor.”
 
Some small business owners have seen effects already, including Steve Fleming, a registered electrician in the Hautes-Pyrénées region of south western France.
 
He said his business took its first hit over the weekend when a British customer postponed a job citing fears of the value of the pound.
 
“He earns all his money in pounds and didn't want to make transfers into euros at the moment because the pound is so low. Now everything is on hold,” he told The Local. 
 
Fleming, who has been in France for nine years, said he was concerned that a weak pound will mean fewer Brits moving to France, and therefore fewer customers. 
 
“A lot of my customers are expats, the ones who live here full time are usually retired and living on their UK pension. They will probably be more careful about spending money from now on,” he said. 
 
“I've seen this before, they'll start saying: 'Can I leave it a few weeks before paying'?”.
 
Brexit: Life for Brits in France will get more complicated Will fewer Brits move to France? Photo: AFP
 
Sas Edwards, a British financial adviser who has called France home for 23 years, said she was concerned that the French may treat Brits differently post Brexit. 
 
“I'm worried that I might lose credibility as a British person when trying to give financial advice to the French,” she told The Local.
 
“It will all come down to the question of how the French will portray the British in France. Will we be immigrants who are taking away jobs, or will we be Europeans who have been living here for years? We can only wait to find out.”
 
Others are less concerned about any effect on their business.
 
Mike Spencer who runs a bed and breakfast in the Aquitaine region to the south west of France said he had no immediate concerns about Brexit from a business perspective. 
 
“There could be a short term dip in the number of British tourists, who won't have enough money to visit because of the volatile exchange rate, but that's about it,” he told The Local. 
 
He said that small leisure and tourist companies in France like his deal in euros and generally have a mix of nationalities visiting, so the Brexit vote is unlikely to be felt too much. 
 
In the longer term, he said that changes such as a cut in the number of low-cost flights out of the UK could see dips in tourist numbers in the region. 

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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