Brexodus: The Brits in a rush to move to France before Brexit day

Britain's shock vote to leave the European Union has prompted many Brits to leave the UK and head to France while they still can.

Brexodus: The Brits in a rush to move to France before Brexit day
Max Speed/Flickr
There's nothing like a shock referendum result to help focus the mind on where you want to live.
Following the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 many Brits in the UK are hurriedly packing their bags and making plans to move to France and elsewhere in Europe.
Some have already upped sticks and left knowing that once official Brexit Day is declared the possibility to move and work abroad will get a lot more complicated.
The deal struck early on Friday morning between London and Brussels confirmed their reasoning.
A joint document published after the talks said Brits already living in the EU and those who move before Brexit Day in March 2019 will be able to stay, although they might have to apply for residency or “settled status” as it is being referred to.
However no such rights to live and work in mainland Europe will be guaranteed to those who want to make the move after this cut-off date.
So many who have always dreamed of living in France have decided to act now while they still have the chance.
David Perry, 28, moved to Paris from London in July this year and says the UK’s vote to leave the EU was a catalyst in his decision.
He had considered living in continental Europe at some point, but the uncertainty following the Brexit vote added urgency to his decision. “I thought if I didn't go now, it might be more difficult in the future,” he told The Local.
Perry was working on a live radio show in London on the night of the referendum and said he still remembers “the sinking feeling as the leave votes came in.”
He now works for a digital start-up.
“I'm glad to have the chance to live here now whilst it was easy for me to pack up and move here with no restraints. Younger people may unfortunately look at what I've been able to do with envy,” he said.
He is not alone. A number of young professionals who had made the move from London to Paris since the Brexit vote.
Until now, the more popular move has been in the opposite direction: an estimated 200,000 French people in London, compared to less than 10,000 Brits in the city of Paris.
London has long had a reputation as a more cosmopolitan city than Paris, with greater employment and business opportunities and a more international outlook.
But times perhaps are changing.
Figures released by Britain's Office for national Statistics this month reveal that net migration to the UK in the last year has taken a record plunge, with 19% fewer EU migrants coming to live in Britain and 28,000 more EU citizens leaving the UK year-on- year.
A French start up company told The Local recently that Brexit and the Macron effect has prompted them to move from London to Paris and some French citizens told The Local recently how the UK had become “toxic” and the Brexit vote had persuaded them to move back to France. Brits are heading the same way for similar reasons.
Emma Brooke, 29, moved to Paris in July 2017 and works as a writer and communications manager for a small French company.
“I'd always wanted to move here in the back of my mind, but Brexit moved it from a pipe dream to something I wanted to do imminently,” she told The Local. “I wanted to take advantage of as many opportunities to move and integrate easily while I had the chance.”
“I also prefer the way of life here,” she added. “There's a much better work-life balance, and society still holds intellectualism, art and culture in high esteem – something Britain is rapidly losing.”
Paris has enjoyed cultural renaissance in the last few years, with a varied food and drink scene developing in the north and east of the city as well as proliferation of new fashion and design boutiques and workshops.
Tech and media companies have moved into the second arrondissement (nicknamed “Silicon Sentier”) and the world’s largest start-up incubator, Station F, also opened on the banks of the Seine this summer.
”For years, I was always proud to call myself a Brit, as to the outside world the UK was seen as a place of tolerance…but the Brexit vote made me realise that there is, in fact, a lot of intolerance at home,” 27 year-old Peter Stewart told The Local.
Stewart made the move from London to France following the Brexit vote and now works as an editor and translator for a government agency.
“I had been thinking about moving abroad for some time, but it was the vote to leave the European Union that swayed it for me,” he said.
“I didn't want to be a part of a society that was looking inwards instead of outwards, so I decided the best thing to do was for me to leave,” he said.
But it is not only young creative types that are making the move.
Retired lecturer Peter bought a holiday home near the Canal du Midi ten years ago with his wife and since the Brexit vote they have moved their permanently.
“We had always said that we would spend a lot more time in France after my wife retired in 2016, but the Brexit vote, and the subsequent venom heaped upon some (foreign) friends of ours in the immediate aftermath made us to decide that we couldn't live in the UK any longer,” he told The Local. “Our decision to move to France was a direct result of Brexit.”
“Britain is no longer the country I was born into in 1952. Some people say they are 'ashamed to be British', I'm not, but that's because my version of British isn't the hate-fuelled, racist, xenophobic country that Britain seems to have become. It's the country of tolerance and give and take, that grew out of the 1960s and 1970s, and I really, really miss it now that it has gone.”
A 35 year-old security consultant we spoke to, who preferred to remain anonymous, was in the process of buying a house in France when the vote to leave took place, driving down the value of sterling.
The professional, who now lives in Essonne, to the south of Paris, with her husband, mother and daughter told The Local: “We did not expect the result and naively thought that we would be able to buy our house here and be in a good position. We lost money with the collapse in the pound but still wanted to push ahead because we didn’t want to raise our daughter as anything other than ‘European’ and in a European environment.”
The family previously lived in the Home Counties, near London where they felt that there was “too much anti- Europe sentiment and anti-globalisation perspectives”. “As [people from] mixed race/nationality backgrounds, my husband and I felt that now was the time to move,” she told The Local.
“I’m happy to be on this side of the fence, apprehensive about the future for all, but so happy to see our child learn in an environment where the unity is praised not questioned.”
As the March 2019 cut-off point approaches, these Brits are unlikely to be the last to make the move while they still can. Removal companies could be in for a busy year.
by Hannah Meltzer
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.”