Are you are worrier, a campaigner or part of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ brigade? The 150,000 Brits in France have reacted very differently to the prospect of Brexit.
France is home to an estimated 150,000 Brits spread around the country and although they will all be affected by Brexit in one way or another, it doesn’t mean they have all reacted to the prospect of Britain quitting the EU in the same way.
Indeed there are a few identifiable groups of “Brexpats” (if we can call them that for the sake of word play).
The Bremaining activists
The shock referendum result has brought out the militant side in a small number of Brexpats, who have taken it upon themselves to lead the fight to safeguard citizens’ rights.
These people are the ones who have set up groups like British in Europe, Remain in France Together (RIFT) and Bremain in Spain, or lead existing groups like British in France, and who are doing everything they can to make sure the rights of the 1.2 million Brits living in the EU are not swept under the carpet.
These activists have been appearing in front of parliamentary committees in Westminster and visiting EU negotiators in Brussels and Strasbourg to highlight what they see as the fraught position of British nationals living in the EU. They have organised petitions and campaigns such as persuading other Brexpats to write to MEPs around Europe urging them to stick up for the rights. Some have even cycled from France to Downing Street with petitions.
To their credit they have spent a lot of their own money and time to make sure that amid all the talk of future trade deals and divorce bills the “human side of Brexit” is not forgotten.
One of these activists is cancer patient John Shaw, 71 from the group Fair Deal for Expats. He gave a speech outside the High Court in January in which he stressed that “Brexit was a matter of life or death for some of us.”
Shaw who lives in the Lot-et-Garonne department of south west France has made it clear how important the subject of healthcare is for Brits living in the EU. Others have raised the issue of pensions or freedom of movement. These Bremaining activitists might be small in number but they are putting up a fight. That’s because they have help.
Outside this small group of frontline fighters is a much wider group, numbering in their hundreds if not thousands, who are keen to make their voices heard.
They have signed up to anti-Brexit groups in their droves, written to MEPs, signed petitions and shared vital information. They have retuend home to join anti-Brexit protests and they are very active on social media. They tend to follow the lead of groups like British in Europe and RIFT.
Many if not most are still deeply bitter about the result of the referendum which they believe was mostly the result of voters in the UK being duped and lied to. That makes it hard for them to move on and many are still arguing their corner with leavers.
The bitterness levels are high as many of them did not even get a chance to vote in the referendum because they have been out of the country for over 15 years.
It’s fair to say a huge number of Brexpats living in France and elsewhere in the EU have been beset by worry since the referendum.
This group contains many pensioners who appear to be the most fearful about their futures in France.
They search for advice on what they can do to give them some kind of security. These are the Brexpats who, perhaps fearing a breakdown of talks and feeling an unwillingness to trust anything the British government says, are applying for residency permits or French Nationality.
They will go to meeting halls for for Q and A sessions with the British Ambassador, urgently seeking some kind of clarity on how exactly Brexit will affect them. No amount of reassurance from the British government will settle their nerves.
For many “worriers” the impact of Brexit is already being felt, not least those pensioners who have seen their income cut because of the fall in the pound.
One person wrote on a Facebook message board: “My mental and physical health have both suffered since Brexit. I have lost weight, had some sleepless nights, lost my focus on my business and have got a script for anti-anxiety pills. I spent almost three weeks house-ridden after 23rd June. I’m slowly coming around.”
Another said: “Brexit has instilled me with anxiety, gives me sleepless nights and much worry.”
There are an increasing number of Brexpats who, eager to move on from Brexit have decided the best form of action is to go Gallic.
They don’t want to waste vital energy fighting Brexit and instead put their resources into getting French nationality.
These perhaps are not the folk who are getting French citizenship as a security measure, but more those who want to distance themselves from the UK by becoming French – a nationality they find they have more in common with.
“Gaining French nationality will help me feel distanced from the sadness and shame I felt when my country voted to leave the EU,” one of the Frexpats told The Local recently.
“I felt ashamed to admit that I was British after the results of the referendum, but more so now by the economic and political aftermath. I hardly recognise the UK politically anymore,” he added.
The Keep Calm and Carry On group
There are a large group of Brexpats who, although they were against Brexit, are refusing to be drawn into either panicking or campaigning.
They insist, much to the annoyance of the activists who might accuse them of apathy, that everything will be alright, nothing is going to change. It’s all a storm in a cup of Yorkshire Tea.
“Do you really think France is going to kick us all out?” they will write on message boards. “Do you really think the UK is going to kick all the French out? Of course not.”
This group of Brexpats are a particular annoyance to the activists and foot soldiers, who accuse them of apathy and of hindering their cause by not joining it.
In response the Keep Calm and Carry on gang accuse the activists of scaremongering and of creating more needless panic and yet more division between the two sides.
If everything does turn out OK for the 1.2 million, no doubt the Keep Calm crew will turn around to the activists and say, “We told you so”. To which the activists will surely respond “It was because of our hard work that it did.”
Of course not all of the 150,000 Brexpats in France were in favour of Britain remaining in the EU. Indeed many voted to leave.
While the idea that someone could happily live in France and the EU but vote for Britain to leave might seem contradictory to most, these Bre-leavers insist their problem was with the EU and not France.
“I don’t feel in the minority – I feel unique,” one British leave voter told The Local.
“I don’t know many expats but certainly my French friends and acquaintances are shocked when I tell them that I support Brexit.
“They grudgingly acknowledge the flaws of the EU but seem reluctant or even a bit scared to think that there could be a life outside it.”
These Bre-leavers are hard to come by and some have gone into hiding, but many, like “Expat Steve” from France who had LBC radio host James O’Brien shaking his head in disbelief, are fighting their corner.
Brexpat Steve said he was “very happy with the referendum result” but had no desire at all to return to Britain. He firmly believes Brits will be able to live in France freely just as they did before.
It’s likely that every Brit in France, no matter what Brexpat tribe they belong to would be happy to see that.
Source: The Local