‘We will miss our British councillors, they bring new ideas to France’

They assimilated the culture, learnt the language, paid the taxes, and served as public representatives in their adopted home country.

'We will miss our British councillors, they bring new ideas to France'
Photo: AFP

But from March this year, hundreds of Britons serving as municipal councillors in cities and towns around France will no longer be eligible to hold office. Or vote.

As Britain readies to depart from the European Union after a near half-century alliance, small-town French mayors, especially, say they are dreading the pending “colossal loss” of a key political resource.


British local councillor Patrick Head with mayor Lydie Brionne. Photo: AFP

“It is hard to find motivated people in a small town,” said mayor Lydie Brionne of Perriers-en-Beauficel in Normandy in northwest France, where two of the 11 municipal councillors are British.

Just like other citizens of the EU bloc, Britons have since 2001 been entitled to stand in local elections in France, except for the position of mayor for which you need French citizenship.

They will lose this right after Brexit becomes official at midnight on Friday, though they will be allowed to serve out their mandates until fresh local elections in France in March.

No longer EU citizens, Britons in France will also lose the right to vote in local polls.

Brionne said Perriers-en-Beauficel – population 216 – will struggle to find replacements when its duo of British representatives are forced to retire.

One of them is Patrick Head, 64, originally from Wiltshire in the south of Britain and the 28th Briton to buy a house in the sleepy French commune.

In 2014 – 10 years after moving there – he received by far the most votes in a local election, but despite this massive show of support, he will be “fired” shortly, said a “very disappointed” Head.

'Colossal loss'

“We will miss Patrick because he helps us a lot,” added Brionne, explaining he is a key link between the local authority and the 50-odd Britons living in this corner of Normandy.

“For the last 20 years, many Brits have moved here, they have repopulated the town and given it dynamism,” she added.

Far from an isolated case, similar fears exist in other towns where Britons have put down roots.

Of France's 35,048 municipal councils, 712 boast British representatives – 757 individuals in total.

They make up almost a third of the nearly 2,500 foreign representatives among France's nearly half a million local councillors.

In Poupas, a town of 85 inhabitants in the south of France, three of the 11 councillors are from across the Channel. Two recently obtained French nationality, which means they remain eligible to serve.

“It is a colossal loss,” Poupas mayor Pascal Guerin told AFP of the Brexit-induced upheaval.

British residents of Poupas “are perfectly integrated into the town life, even more than the rest of the population,” he said.

“For them, Brexit is a total aberration, they are taking it very badly,” he added.

“One councillor even cried when Boris Johnson was elected” prime minister last July on a pro-Brexit ticket.

Allison Mackie, a 63-year-old from Scotland, is one of two British representatives on the council of Bellegarde-du-Razes, a town of 240 people in southern France.

She has lived here since 2011, and is heartbroken that she will no longer be able to serve her community as an elected official.


“We built our house here, we pay taxes here, we consume here, but we are scrapped from the voter's list,” she complained.

Virginie Windridge, the 39-year-old mayor of Jouac – a town of 180 residents in central France – is married to a British man.

She finds it “very unfair that people who have been here for years, pay their taxes, and contribute to community life will overnight have no right other than to 'shut up and pay'.

“It is hard to swallow.”

The two British councillors for the town, said the mayor, play an important role in the community. “They bring new ideas, a different way of operating and of viewing things.”

According to official British statistics, France is home to a little over 157,000 British citizens – although there are likely to be many more than that who are not registered.

Outside Paris, large numbers are to be found in Brittany and the southwestern Dordogne region.

British people are sometimes credited with breathing new life into dying parts of rural France, taking over homes and businesses being abandoned en masse by younger people flocking to the cities.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


‘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


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.