‘Hard Brexit is off the table’: Brits in France react to shock UK election result

While the French Prime Minister says the UK election result, which say PM Theresa May fail to gain a majority will not alter Brexit, delighted British citizens living in France believe otherwise.

'Hard Brexit is off the table': Brits in France react to shock UK election result
Photo: AFP

The top news story in France on Friday morning was of course all about the elections.

Not the French parliamentary elections on Sunday but the ones across the Channel where Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win an outright majority.

That result took France and its leaders by surprise with the press asking the same questions as their UK counterparts over Theresa May's future in the light of what has to be seen as a big failure for her Conservative party.

“Theresa May's fate is in suspense,” headlined Le Figaro, which like most media also headlined on how May had lost her high risk gamble.

Those on the left in France such as defeated Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon were quick to congratulate Britain's Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who defied critics and vicious personal attacks in the press to gain seats.

“I send my congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn for the result gained by the Labour party in the British elections,” said Hamon, whose party look set to suffer a historic defeat in the French elections this month.

For his part French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Friday that the British election result was a surprise but did not change the country's decision to leave the European Union.

“The British have spoken, they have voted, and have given the Conservative party a majority, albeit a simple majority, which is something of a surprise,” Philippe told Europe 1 radio.

But he added: “I don't think we should read these results as calling into question the stance on Brexit which was clearly expressed by the British people.”

Philippe, who only took office in May, said the British election “had relatively little to do with Brexit and far more to do with domestic issues, for example linked to security” following the terror attacks in Manchester and London.

“I don't think we can read anything into this vote than a desire expressed by the British to choose the Conservative Party, but with less intensity than we thought beforehand,” he said.

However British nationals living in France were reading plenty into the election result.

Members of the anti-Brexit Remain in France Together Facebook group suggested the result would scupper Theresa May's plans to bring about a so-called hard Brexit.

“Looks like we've done it. Hard Brexit off the table. Theresa May is finished. This, if confirmed is the best news ever,” posted one member.

Kalba Meadows who founded the group said: “It's not yet clear to me (or probably to anyone else 😉 ) how the UK is going to be able to go into the [Brexit] negotiations in 10 days with a clear mandate. Yet the clock is ticking, and the two-year period won't be extended.

But it's still, I think, the best result that we could have hoped for, and we should all be proud that we've played our part in making it so.”

Although others suggested the result was not that positive for anti-Brexit expats in France, especially given the fall in the pound against the euro when it became clear the Conservatives would not have a majority.

Brits living in France, especially pensioners who receive their income from the UK in pounds have been hit hard since Brexit as the pound has tumbled from €1.34 to €1.13 on Thursday night.

“This is the worst of all possible results,” said one member of RIFT.

“Tories too strong to be out but too weak to govern properly or choose a better leader. Uncertainty making a big dent in my pension euros.

“It could make a flounce-out of the EU with no deal more likely in my opinion.”




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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.