French expats in UK suffer Brexit abuse

The French ambassador to the UK said her country’s citizens now feel like foreigners in a place they have long called home because of the Brexit referendum result and the abuse that has followed it.

French expats in UK suffer Brexit abuse
French ambassador to the UK Sylvie Bermann with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Photo: AFP

Just as the Brexit referendum has plunged the lives of Brits in France into uncertainty the same worries are held by the 300,000 French nationals living in the UK.

But according to the country’s ambassador Sylvie Bermann many of her citizens have had to suffer the added trauma of being abused as the Brexit referendum provoked a rise in xenophobia and racism.

Bermann told a parliamentary committee in London: “In the aftermath of the referendum some French nationals were subjected to negative or aggressive language.

“They were not used to this sort of abuse in a country where many of them have lived for decades and which they regarded as a success story in terms of dynamism and respect for others.

“And some of them now view Britain in a different way and are ready to change their plan in the short run.”

The ambassador lamented how her French citizens went from feeling like locals to outsiders in just one day.

“Some of them told me that before the 23rd of June they felt like Londoners and now they feel like foreigners, which is different,” said Bermann.

“A lot express a sense of sadness and of course are waiting for answers.” 

The deep anger and uncertainty felt by the French in London was made clear the day after the shock Brexit referendum.

“I am disappointed, shaken and angry, Charlotte Buton, a Frenchwoman who has been living in London for the past two years, told The Local. “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.”

Nadege Alezine, editor in chief of French expat news site, said: “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.”

And even British expats returning from France have experienced abuse.

Andrew Martin said: “I'm English and have a French registered car and have been racially abused 3 times whilst driving in the UK since June. The latest was being called a f****** French c*** and intimidated about 3 weeks ago. This was reported to the Police.”

British authorities reported a 41 percent rise in hate crimes in the month after the referendum compared to the same month in 2015.

And it's not just French who are being abused. A Polish man was killed in what is believed to have been a racist murder and The Local Spain reported on shocking case of a man who was attacked by a racist thug just for speaking Spanish.

The British government has yet to confirm the rights of EU nationals living in the UK but it is expected a deal will be done that will guarantee their status as well as the rights of the hundreds of thousands of Brits living across Europe.

Last week a special meeting in the French parliament heard how the loss of rights would be “cataclysmic” for Brits in France unless deals are made.

In contrast to the abuse handed out to the French in the UK, many Brits in France have been offered sympathy from the locals since the referendum result.

“Far from being hostile, everybody has been very sympathetic to our plight as British people living in France,” said Adrian Fox. 

Matthew Pilcher added: “We've had nothing but support from our commune.”

How France could do more to ease the worries of 'Brexpats'

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France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport.