France wants Paris to profit from London’s losses

France's finance minister has wasted no time in stoking the flames by saying Paris must take advantage of London's losses, if and when Brexit becomes a reality.

France wants Paris to profit from London's losses
Photo: AFP

Minister Michel Sapin said Paris must assert its position as a financial powerhouse so it can be in a position to profit from London’s expected losses when Britain’s departure from the EU is finalized.

“Paris really needs to strengthen its position. It has the capacity,” said the finance minister.

While the City of London and Canary Wharf are the banking centres of London, Paris's own finance HQ is based out in the district of La Defense to the west of Paris (see photo below).

Spread out over 560 hectares, it includes 18 skyscrapers and sees almost 200,000 workers commute in every day.

In other words it is in a good position to take over London's mantel as Europe's financial centre.

Sapin suggested that France could force David Cameron to eat even more humble pie by making him regret his infamous inflammatory statement about London “rolling out the red carpet” for Parisian bankers fleeing high taxes.

“I found it highly disagreeable when the Prime Minister said he would roll out the red carpet for those who wanted to flee France for the UK fearing high taxes,” said Sapin.

“I am more 'fair play' than him,” he said. “But I said the other day that the red carpet remains in place and it works it both directions,” said Sapin.

And Sapin has no doubt that that the red carpet could function in the opposite direction intended by Cameron once Britain leaves.

“What is the strength of London’s position? It is that [for a business] being in London means you are in Europe,” said Sapin.

“But in the future there would be no point being in London. [Businesses] would need to have their feet planted in the European Union. That could be in Paris, Amsterdam of Frankfurt.

Sapin believes the “financial passports” that give London’s banks access to the European Union will be taken away after Brexit as a “necessary and obligatory consequence”.

It’s not the first time French ministers have suggested Paris would try and woo London’s bankers in the event of Brexit.

France’s former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said back in 2014 that if the UK voted to leave the EU “France will roll out the red carpet to British investors who will flee their country. They will all come to France because companies need Europe.”

READ ALSO: Why Brexit would be a 'windfall' for France

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.