Hollande tells Brits they can stay but expat worries persist

French President François Hollande has tried to ease fears about the British expat community in France by saying they can continue to work and stay in France as long as they like, but many expats are unimpressed with the reassurances.

Hollande tells Brits they can stay but expat worries persist
'Right, you keep our expats and we'll look after yours'. Photo: AFP

Hollande was speaking after talks with British PM Theresa May in Paris on Thursday night, during which he warned the Tory leader that France would not allow Britain to remain in the free market unless it accepted freedom of movement.

Either “remain in the single market and assume the free movement that goes with it or to have another status,” Hollande warned the UK.

The question of freedom of movement is crucial for the tens of thousands of British nationals living and working in France, many of whom fear that Brexit will make life more complicated, perhaps even impossible, in their adopted country.

While negotiations are yet to begin on any Brexit deal, Hollande tried to ease the fears of those expats both in the France and the UK, who have been left in limbo after the shock June referendum result.

“The UK will remain a full member of the EU throughout the negotiations process so nothing will change four our citizens. After the negotiations the rules will be set,” Hollande told a press conference.

“There’s no doubt that the French who reside in the UK and the Britons who live in France will continue to work there and spend as much time as they like there,” the president added.

But many of those Britons living in France were hardly reassured by the statement.

In the Facebook support group Remain in France Together (RIFT) many pointed out the Hollande failed to mention a huge sector of the British population living in France.

“He’s only talking about people working in France thus far- did not mention retired people,” said David Rosemount.

For many Brits in France the key issue will be whether they will continue to have access to health care post Brexit and their pensions.

“He says nothing,” said Dominic Rippon. “Even if we can stay to work, will we have healthcare subsidies cut? We'll have to wait a while for any detail, this is just politicking.”

Alan Court said: “Feel very concerned that the UK may abandon our healthcare and lock our pensions. Very worrying times that could go on for years.

Many were sceptical given that we are far from having anything set out in writing let alone in law.

Ruth Trevanion said: “This is just words, and there is no mention of those who don't work. I'll believe it when i see the signed agreement but it is a step in the right direction.”

As others pointed out there is also the fact that Hollande may not be around when Brexit negotiations begin, given that there is a presidential election in April next year and his popularity ratings are dismal.

What stance would Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé or even Marine Le Pen take on the issue?

The same worries Brits have in France are mirrored by French nationals living in the UK, all of whom were barred from having a vote in the EU referendum.

Christophe Premat, the MP who represents French citizens living in the UK told The Local he has been inundated with queries from worried French expats.

“They all have questions regarding the consequences: what will happen to their child benefit or work benefits?” he said. “Students are also worried about university fees.”

“A lot of people here are talking about taking British nationality. That’s a very personal decision, but if it’s just for fiscal or administrative purposes I would say it’s a shame, but if it’s to participate in UK politics and they have been established here for a few years then it’s a good choice,” Premat said.

The lawmaker said he has also been approached by many French in the UK who are talking about returning home to France due to the uncertainty.

“Many are worried about the future. Some of those who have been established here and were thinking of returning home intend to shorten their stay in the UK,” he said.

The MP is confident bilateral relations will be sorted out between Britain and France that will guarantee the status of each country’s citizens living abroad.

“Given that bilateral relations are already strong, not just in terms of defence and economy, that I believe we will be able to find agreements on things like tax reciprocity,” he said.

The MP also believes that Brexit should push Britain should copy the model of France and create an MP for the tens of thousands of British citizens living abroad.

“For those who live outside the UK and have no representation, then it could be a good compromise,” he said.

It may also force the Conservatives to fulfill their promise to scrap  the law that bars expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in national elections or referendums.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.”