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BREXIT

‘We choose France’: Dordogne Brits still in Brexit limbo as clock ticks down

Standing behind a counter piled with scones in his café in the French village of Eymet, Adrian Cattermole voices the weariness of many Britons living abroad after MPs again rejected the divorce deal negotiated with the EU.

'We choose France': Dordogne Brits still in Brexit limbo as clock ticks down
Maura McGuirk and James McConnell are among the many Britons living in the Dordogne village of Eymet. Photo: AFP

With the clock ticking down to a Brexit deadline in 16 days, many people in Eymet, a picturesque village in the Dordogne region home to hundreds of British pensioners, are following events back home with a mixture of anxiety and resignation.

Reacting to Tuesday's vote in the British parliament, which increased the risk of Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal, Cattermole said he felt “no surprise but simply amazement that this thing has gone on so long and the Prime Minister Theresa May hasn't realised it's not going to work.”

But he said he refused to cede to the panic that has prompted a scramble among Britons in Dordogne, a magnet for retirees and tourists for decades, to seek permanent French residency permits.

“Personally the only thing that concerns people here in Eymet really is the exchange rate,” he said.   

“If it collapses because of a hard Brexit, peoples' pensions and the money they transfer from Britain will be affected badly.”

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Briton Adrian Cattermole in the café he owns in Eymet in southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Maggie Bradford, a Scottish-born 60-year-old who moved to Dordogne six years ago with her ex-banker husband, said she felt powerless.

“How can you do anything if you don't know what the outcome's going to be? We're all living in limbo,” the elegant bed-and-breakfast owner said as she sipped a cup of tea in the cafe.  

“There are so many rumours going round, and people asking 'have you done this, have you done that?'. 

“I think we just have to get on with it,” she said.    

Bradford said she was still holding out hope for a second referendum that would reverse the decision to leave the bloc made in a first vote in June 2016.

Europe 'as way of life' 

France has around 150,000 British residents, according to 2017 data from the INSEE statistics agency, with most of them concentrated in the southwest of the country.  

Lured by low property prices and warm weather, they have helped regenerate some rural areas, but the influx has also caused resentment among locals in some areas.

Long-term residents in Eymet say their overriding concern is being able to remain in the village of quaint half-timbered houses that has become their home.

 

Beautiful countryside, low property prices, and warm weather lured many Britons to the Dordogne. Photo: AFP

“We have no fears of the French government being vindictive,” Cattermole said.  

“We're all fairly confident that we'll be able to remain and live our lives as we have done, enjoying the fantastic French culture, wine and sun, while Britain sinks slowly into economic disaster.”

France has already begun implementing a Brexit action plan designed to prepare the country for the worst should Britain crash out of the EU without a deal.

The government has been granted powers to pass decrees in the event of a no-deal Brexit which would guarantee the rights of Britons to stay in France – providing the UK reciprocates.

In the run-up to Brexit, some couples anxious to avoid difficulties in moving to France after Brexit have made the switch in recent months.

Cyclists on the annual Tour de France bike race speeding through the Dordogne. Photo: AFP

Standing in the shadow of Eymet's 13th-century castle, James McConnell and his fiancee Maura McGuirk said they brought forward their plans to relocate.   

“Rather than not being able to come over, we've decided to get over before March 29,” 38-year-old McGuirk explained.

Like many Britons in other EU member states, the pair felt forced to choose between Britain and Europe.

“We've only ever known Europe. We know no other way of life. It's something we take for granted and to have that snatched away is hard to come to terms,” said McGuirk, who grew up in London.

The pair, who left behind jobs in the restaurant trade in London, plan to learn French, open a guesthouse and in time gain French citizenship.

“If we have to choose between being British or French, we choose French,” McConnell, a Suffolk native, added.
   

by AFP's Clare Byrne

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TRAVEL NEWS

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport. 

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