On Wednesday the press in Britain all jumped on reports that fist emerged on Twitter about the French government's draft bill that would be pushed through in the event of Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement
The bill was actually published on or shortly after October 3rd when the country's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau presented it to the cabinet.
So even though it was published two weeks ago it was presented in the British press on Wednesday as France ramping up the pressure on Theresa May just as she headed off to Brussels for a crucial EU summit on Wednesday.
“France was the first to ratchet up the tension yesterday, publishing guidance on the Senate website,” said the Daily Mail.
Whereas The Sun said: “France last night published their doomsday No Deal scenario planning just hours before Theresa May’s arrival at the EU Council.”
But the big problem with the reports wasn't only the mistaken timing of the bill's publication, it was the whole interpretation of the legislation.
Much of the bill laid out the factual and fairly dramatic consequences of a no-deal Brexit such as the fact Britons would become third country nationals and therefore need residency permits to be able to stay, visas to enter France and how companies could be in trouble if they employed British workers without the necessary permits.
But the legislation printed on the Senate's website was interpreted by some as what France intends to do if there's a no-deal.
The anti-Macron Daily Express headlined on: “Macron to introduce plans for UK tourists to need visas to visit France if no-deal exit”, while The Sun's Westminster Correspondent Harry Cole focused on the fact that British nationals in France would lose their automatic right to remain in France as EU citizens.
“An explosive draft law published in Paris seems designed to cause maximum pain to Brits living in France short of kicking them out,” wrote Cole, comparing the perceived plan to a very different statement by Theresa May “to automatically protect the rights of French people living in the UK.”
“Brits would automatically become third party nationals that bars them from holding jobs reserved for EU citizens and restrict their access to healthcare and welfare,” read The Sun's article as if France was planning to close hospitals to British patients after Brexit.
“If President Emmanuel Macron approves it Brits would be barred from jobs reserved for EU citizens as well as restrict healthcare and welfare.”
And this was the Metro's front page:
Emmanuel Macron's government has “proposed that Britain's living in France instantly be deemed illegal if there's no deal”, the paper said.
But it's simply not true.
The purpose of the French bill is actually to allow the French government to quickly pass decrees without debate in parliament in order to prevent upheaval to the lives of Brits living and working in France, tourists who just want to visit and to enable the ports to be able to cope with the extra checks on trucks that would need to be carried out.
The bill was not a list of threats from Paris designed to shock Theresa May into accepting the EU's offer of a deal.
It simply listed the real consequences of a no-deal (just as the UK government has been doing in recent weeks) on the rights of Brits to remain and work in France as well as the impact on their access to social welfare and health cover and importantly the areas where France would need to pass urgent legislation to deal with the resulting impact.
France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau has already stated that Brits already living in France would be looked after in the event of a no deal.
“We must make sure that in the absence of a deal on March 30, 2019, Britons living in France do not find themselves suddenly with irregular (immigration) status,” she added.
Indeed the French bill states that Brits in France could be given more preferential treatment than third country nationals (citizens of EU member-states) following Brexit.
The Europe Minister reiterated that position in a Senate debate on Wednesday.
It's also worth pointing out that even if there is a deal it's like Brits will have to apply for a residency permits and are currently being urged to do so already by the British embassy and France's interior ministry.
The really important caveat is that the French government has repeatedly said that everything still depends on London and the future of Brits living in France will only be guaranteed if London acts likewise to protect the French living in the UK. Minister for Europe Nathalie Loiseau has said that the French citizens residing in the UK are the priority for Paris.
The bill states France would retain the right to cancel any decree it takes to allow Brits to stay legally in France if London does not put in place a similar measure.
But given that Theresa May has already stated this would happen it seems likely that in the event of no deal a bilateral agreement would be made between Paris and London to ensure each country's citizens can carry on with their lives almost as before.
One important point to add is that while this sounds like a safe fall-back option, campaigners are concerned about any reciprocal deal because if London downgrades the rights of EU citizens in Britain then Paris and other EU governments will do the same.
Kalba Meadows, from the Remain in France Together Campaign group told The Local: “The only moral and secure outcome for our rights and those of EU citizens in the UK in the case of no deal is a legally binding, ring fenced citizens' rights agreement.
“There is already a draft agreement that could be honoured even if the rest of the deal failed, and it would show that both sides really did care about people before politics,” she said.
The campaign groups British in Europe and the “3million” which represents EU nationals in the UK have also urged London and Brussels to act by ring-fencing the current citizens' rights agreement.
“Enough is enough, we need legal certainty now, and we ask you to do the right thing by providing it,” British in Europe said.
A source close to France's Minister for Europe told The Local on Thursday they were surprised at the coverage in the British press, who had clearly mixed up the reasons for the bill with the legislation itself.
“The aim is certainly not to cause 'maximum pain' to Britons living in France in fact it's the exact opposite. We want to take action so they don't find themselves in an irregular position if there's no deal.
“However the French citizens in the UK are our priority so we would look for a reciprocal agreement if the main negotiations between London and Brussels fail.”
So while Brits in France and the French in the UK remain bargaining chips in the negotiations process, it's clear that France is not intent on ruining the lives of it's 150,000 British residents if there's a no-deal.