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BREXIT

Brexit and Macron: Why the time was right to quit London for Paris

A successful startup explains why the uncertainty around Brexit and the election of pro-business Emmanuel Macron in France meant the time was right to swap London for Paris.

Brexit and Macron: Why the time was right to quit London for Paris
The team of Once, who have moved from London to Paris.
“Bye London. We are moving to Paris. So Long and thanks for all the fish and chips.”
 
That was the goodbye message of the CEO of dating app Once, a French startup that has just relocated from London to Paris as a result of the Brexit referendum.
 
French born Jean Meyer set up the dating app Once along with compatriots Guillaume Sempé and Guilhem Duché in Brittany in early 2015.
 
Back then they felt they had no choice but to leave France and move to London.
 
“Staying in our country was not an option,” Meyer (pictured below) writes.
 
 
London's wages and flexibility of the labour market (short notice periods, simplified contracts) made it easy for his company to attract international talent. They also had greater access to venture capital funds than they would have done in Paris.
 
Essentially the company was able to grow far quicker and on a much firmer footing in London than if they had stayed in Paris, Meyer says.
 
The Once app has been downloaded five million times and the company described itself as the “leader of the romantic encounter on mobile in Europe.”
 
 
Then came the shock Brexit referendum result of June 2016 when a majority of UK voters opted to leave the EU. While the signing of the Brexit divorce papers still feels far off (if it actually happens at all) the impact of the referendum on the startup was immediate.
 
“After the Brexit referendum we soon found it a lot harder to grow as a company,” Once's deputy chief marketing officer Eva Peris (seen in pic below) tells The Local. 
 
“A startup is an idea and what drives it is the people. You can't grow as a company if you can't get the right people in.”
 
The ability to recruit international talent, once London's strong point, suddenly became more problematic.
 
“I have lost track of the number of developers, marketing managers or data scientists who refused to join us following the Brexit vote,” writes CEO Meyer. “Uncertainty is the worst enemy of the entrepreneur and the signal coming from the United Kingdom through the Brexit vote is absolutely disastrous.”
 
Peris said: “People were really worried about what would happen in the future. They began to think about whether it was really worth going to London at all.
 
“The perception of London had changed. People started to feel as though it was a city where you couldn't settle down. People already there began to think, maybe it's time to go home.”
 
“The level of the pound also dropped massively so the salaries were no longer that interesting to potential recruits.
 
“We didn't move to Paris because we wanted to. We were comfortable in London and moving is expensive. We did it for the business,” she said.
 
(The team at Once including deputy chief marketing officer Eva Peris front row third from left.)
 
While life in London was becoming more and more uncertain on a personal and business level, over in Paris the election of former investment banker Emmanuel Macron was considered positive news for entrepreneurs.
 
Macron's victory, although not greeted warmly by those on the far left or far right, was welcomed by businesses because he had promised to act quickly to free up France's labour market and lower taxes for companies.
 
His pro-business labour reforms were recently signed into law with minimal fuss, essentially making it easier to hire and fire people.
 
For Once, whose founders along with many of the staff are French, Macron's victory opened up an obvious escape route from London.
 
“We didn't know what laws Macron would introduce but we knew he favoured entrepreneurs so it certainly boosted confidence and was a signal to us, as a startup that we could continue growing in Paris, said Peris.
 
And the return has been smooth sailing.
 
“We've had a huge welcome here and it's been easy to hire people. I'm extremely positive and surprised by the atmosphere in Paris. Everything feels made for startups here now,” she said.
 
“We originally chose London because it was easy for startups but now I feel that's the case in Paris,” said Peris.
 
While Once's CEO Meyer admits that French employment tax costs are still higher than in the UK, the real benefit of Paris is “opportunity”.
 
“The opportunities available in Paris are substantial, as it fast becomes one of the most attractive cities in the world for startups,” he said.
 
READ ALSO:
'France is changing': Macron's plea to British talent and London's French expats
 
“And then London, it's really average”
 
But in his parting letter to London Meyer also explained a few other reasons why he was happy to leave London, suggesting the Big Smoke is hardly the greatest city in the world anyway.
 
“I've lived in San Francisco, New York, Berlin and Paris and I've never really understood the attraction of London for Europeans,” he writes.
 
“Apart from London Bridge and Westminster Abbey the architecture is hit and miss. The city looks more like a Ken Loach movie or is lost in hipster clichés.
 
“It's expensive, really expensive, more expensive than New York and twice as expensive as Paris,” he adds.
 
“And the pubs and the Metro close at midnight, the weather lives up to its reputation and in winter it's night at 3pm.”
 
It would be slightly unfair to blame the dark nights and pub closing times on Brexit, but it's possible the EU referendum result has reversed the longstanding trend that saw French entrepreneurs head across the Channel.
 
How many more will follow Once?
 
READ ALSO:
Is working life better in London or Paris?
 
 
For members

VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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