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BREXIT

‘It’s as if I’m invisible – a non person’ Brits in France share their Brexit day heartbreak

As the day dawns at last, British people living in France have been sharing their feelings about Brexit - disappointment, depression, fear, anger and betrayal.

'It's as if I'm invisible - a non person' Brits in France share their Brexit day heartbreak
Photo: Brunel Johnson, Unsplash

We have known it was coming for three years now, but repeated Brexit delays and chaos within UK politics had allowed some a glimmer of hope that maybe it wouldn't after all.

But now that has been snuffed out and at midnight today (11pm in the UK) the UK will exit the EU and British people will lose their EU citizenship.

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Many British residents in France travelled back to the UK to participate in the huge anti-Brexit marches. Photo: AFP

We asked some British people living in France about their emotions now that the day is here.

Linda Fisher, who has lived in Charente for 16 years said: “I feel immense sadness that we will no longer be part of this family of nations.

“We are going to like-minded friends in France for a dinner tonight – not of celebration, but probably commiserations.

“My main worry now is the bloody British government cocking up any and all relationships with the EU. Health cover and freedom of movement worry me too.”

Jeremy Burston, who has lived in France for 17 years, said: “I think the UK is making a catastrophic mistake which they don't understand yet. My friends and relatives are going to suffer.”

Frank Grisaffi, who has lived in France for nine years, said: “I feel devastated and miserable. The social, political and economic costs to the UK will be significant and will reverberate for many years.

“I'll probably spend the day apologising to my French friends and neighbours.”

Des Coulam, who has lived in France for 21 years, said: “I am very disappointed but not at all surprised. Britain has always been a reluctant member of the EU. Britain voted for Brexit so now they will get what they voted for. Sadly, I'm sure that most of those who voted to leave haven't a clue about what they voted for or what the consequences will be.

“There is a lot of continued uncertainty for me personally.”

David Ash, who has been living in Drôme for five years, had an unusual idea for marking the day. He said: “At midnight I will play Ode to Joy on my bagpipes in front of an EU flag draped over my balcony.”

READ ALSO OPINION – if the UK won't stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it's up to us


Some say they have no confidence in the UK government to protect its citizens who live abroad. Photo: AFP

Frank Andrews, 27, has lived in Paris for three years and is currently completing a Masters degree at Sciences Po University in Paris.

He said: “As someone who voted remain, I had hoped for a while that there might be a second referendum. But I have gradually realised that trying to reverse the referendum would be undemocratic and sow so much rage and ire in the country that it would not be worth it. It would give [former UKIP leader] Nigel Farage ammunition 10 years ahead.”

Catherine Bennet has lived in France for nearly eight years now and has French nationality. 

She said: “I’m fortunate that the practicalities of Brexit don’t affect me, seeing as I have a French nationality. But, on a personal level, I feel like one of my two nationalities doesn't really count for much anymore. That is really upsetting.

“Brexit makes me horrendously sad. It’s a huge loss for the country. I feel like I’ve had so many opportunities thanks to being European and I’m horrified that future generations won’t have the same opportunities.”

Rafi Nispel, 27, has lived in France for a year and does part-time shifts in a bar and a restaurant.

“Brexit is a bit of a tricky situation for me personally,” he said. “Everything seems pretty uncertain right now. I’m not sure about what the visa requirements are going to be like, which makes it difficult to plan ahead.

“I don’t work full-time, but have a lot of extra jobs while I work on my own projects, which is a source of worry with respect to what happens after the transition period.

“All of my family voted leave except for me. We only spoke about it a year after the vote. I don’t feel disappointment towards my family. They had their reasons for voting for Brexit. I think there was more confusion than a feeling of real division really.” 

Colin Young, who has been in Paris for five years, said: “I'm tired of feeling angry about it. I'd like to be proven wrong in my pessimistic outlook for Britain.”

Susan Smith, who has been living in Narbonne for 16 years, said: “I feel disassociated. I belong nowhere. I can't vote anywhere. It's as if I am invisible, a non-person.”

READ ALSO 'We will miss our British councillors, they bring new ideas to France'


For many the loss of European citizenship feels like an illness or an amputation. Photo: AFP

Barbara Mary Osborne, who has lived in Normandy for 24 years, said: “I feel kind of jilted by those who voted brexit for all the trouble it has caused us here in France, and they knew none of it before they voted!

“I worry about healthcare, but also the attitude of the French people to us as people here living amongst them.”

Charlotte Ann Swift, who started her life in France as a seasonal worker in the French Alps and made the move full time in 2014, said: “It's awful. I feel as though my legs have been cut off.”

Martin Ryley who has been in France for 19 years said: “I feel sad, let down, ashamed that the people have been duped by power hungry manipulators.”

Fernley Thompson, who has lived in France for seven years, said: “I'll probably get drunk and fly my French, Scottish and EU flags on my house.”

Paul Burges, who has been in France for 17 years, said: “My biggest concern is that the attitude of the British Government will be 'out of sight, out of mind'. Which I believe will cause many problems for the older people who settled in Europe in all good faith, and the younger generation who made the decision to live and work within Europe.”

Rowland Buckland, who has been in France for 15 years, said: “I feel depressed and if we cannot stay here as a couple we will not have a country to live in unless we end our marriage and go back to our respective birth countries of UK and America.”

Kevin Baughen said: “In the short-term, life is going to get much more expensive and that is a worry. Longer-term, we suspect our business will suffer as it is built on experience tourism – over 55 percent comes from the UK.

“On the day itself we will spend time with friends celebrating what we have in France rather than thinking about the UK.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to send us your thoughts and feelings, we didn't have room to include them all but it was very powerful to hear so many voices from different parts of France and people in different situations.

 

 

Member comments

  1. Rowland Buckland – I don’t know about England, but you could get a green card in the US based on your marriage to a US citizen. Most countries allow spouces of citizens to stay somehow, so I have a hard time imagining the UK not allowing it as well. That said, hopefully you can work things out so you can just stay in France.
    I pray it all works out well for you.

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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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