Britain’s French community suffering Brexit blues

France's ambassador to Britain Sylvie Bermann has warned of "great uncertainty" among the French community in the wake of the Brexit vote, in a House of Lords report published on Wednesday.

Britain's French community suffering Brexit blues
Photo: AFP
Speaking to the Lords' EU Justice Sub-Committee, Bermann said the French community has “a lot of questions” about the consequences of Britain's June referendum to leave the European Union.
“It is worried because of the great uncertainty about its future in the UK; its members have invested a lot in this country, both personally and professionally.
“It is also worried, because in the aftermath of the referendum some French nationals were subjected to negative or aggressive language,” Bermann said in comments published in the House of Lords report.
The French ambassador said she and her colleagues had received testimonies of such abuse following the Brexit vote, coming after decades of Britain being seen as “a success story in terms of dynamism and respect for others”.
Bermann estimated 300,000 French people were living in Britain and said some were ready to change their plans after the referendum.
“Some of them told me that before 23 June they felt like Londoners and now they feel like foreigners, which is different.
“Many express a sense of sadness and are waiting for answers,” she said.
The envoy's comments echoed those made by her Polish counterpart, Arkady Rzegocki, and Romanian ambassador Dan Mihalache, who also spoke to the committee for its report on the impact of Brexit on rights.
Rzegocki said there were around 984,000 Poles in Britain, while Mihalache said there were 272,000 Romanians living there.
Anxiety for Britons in EU 
In its assessment the House of Lords committee said the government had a moral duty to provide clarity to EU citizens in Britain.
“The government is under a moral obligation to provide certainty and legal clarity to all EU nationals working, living and studying in the UK, who contribute so significantly to the economic and cultural life of the UK. It should do so urgently,” the report said.
It further called on the government to explain its actions to combat xenophobia, while also warning that EU workers filled gaps in the labour market that cannot be filled by British workers.
“The longer their future is uncertain, the less attractive a place to live and work the UK will be, and the greater labour market gaps will be,” the committee said.
Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living in Britain, although she has stopped short of guaranteeing their rights.
The premier has promised to start the two-year negotiating period to leave the EU — by triggering Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty — by the end of March 2017.
The House of Lords report additionally gathered testimony from Britons living in other EU countries, numbering around 1.2 million in total.
“The anxiety of EU nationals in the UK is matched by that of UK nationals in other EU states — the evidence we received of their distress is compelling,” the report said, calling again on the government to urgently provide certainty and legal clarity.
The biggest worry for Britons living elsewhere in the EU was healthcare, while pension rights and exchange rates were also listed as concerns sourced from the lobby group Expat Citizen Rights in EU.

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Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.