Brexit: Why French citizenship is not the solution for most Brits in France

Credit: JEAN-PIERRE MULLER

 

While the numbers of Brits seeking French nationality has soared since the EU referendum, for the majority of British nationals worried by Brexit becoming French is just not the solution.

Since the 2016 referendum prefectures across France have been inundated with requests from thousands of British nationals applying for French citizenship.

Indeed recent figures showed the number of Brits seeking to become French had soared tenfold since 2015 as worried Brexpats look to guarantee their futures in France.

The numbers only look set to grow as Brexit Day draws nearer, with those Brits who meet the criteria and are prepared to go through the arduous process, look to avoid more limbo.

They know that French nationality will not only allow permanent residence in France but also continued freedom of movement across the EU, something they are not currently guaranteed.

But while just over 3,000 Brits applied for French nationality in 2017 it’s still just a tiny number compared to the overall number of Britons living in France – which is believed to be between 150,000 and 200,000.

That’s because many are simply unwilling or unable to consider becoming French, some for practical reasons and others on principle.

‘It’s not fair on me or France’

“I don’t see why I should be foisted upon the French,” Jan Letchford, who has lived near Narbonne in the south west of France for five years tells The Local.

“If they asked me why I want to become French, the truth is I don’t.

“That’s not to say I’m not happy or that I don’t love France. I just don’t think it’s fair, just because my own country has ballsed things up.”

Letchford is not alone in her thinking.

Research carried out by the group RIFT (Remain in France Together) which campaigns for the rights of Britons in France has revealed that for many, becoming French is the absolute last resort.

Of just over 800 respondents to a survey on citizenship, some 40 percent said they would only take French nationality “as a last resort”, in other words if it was the only way to guarantee their right to remain and work in France.

Why we're becoming French: 'It's far more than just Brexit'

For many respondents the idea of applying for French citizenship just for personal and practical reasons just doesn’t feel right.

Many spoke of a feeling of hypocrisy when citing their reasons.

Gill Harrison, who lives in the south west of France told The Local: “I never thought of applying for French nationality before all this madness started and feel it would be totally hypocritical to start doing it now, simply to make it easier for me to stay here – that’s not a good enough reason for either me or for the French State, to which – I assume – I would have to swear allegiance.

Jan Letchford from near Narbonne added: “I just think on the principle of honesty, both to me and to France, it just doesn’t sit well with me.”

Other respondents to the survey simply felt resentment at being forced into a lengthy and expensive process due to a referendum they believe was a farce and which some were not even allowed to vote in due to the 15 year limit on expats voting in elections.

‘I already have enough paperwork to deal with in France’

“I object to being obliged to adopt another nationality as a purely administrative ‘flag of convenience’ exercise, just to preserve rights I shouldn’t be losing in the first place,” said one respondent.

“I also object to being obliged – by Brexit supporting voters in the UK, and by the failure of the UK Government negotiating team to safeguard my interests – to embark on a time-consuming, potentially costly paper chase which has no guaranteed outcome when I already have more than enough paperwork to do in France, just to stand still,” said the respondent.

For others who would only gain French nationality as a last resort, the idea of switching from British to French nationality does not fit well, especially when they see themselves as neither.

“I have no ‘patriotic’ feelings about GB (especially now!) and don’t really have any towards France (although I want to continue living here as this is where my present life is – who knows for the future?),” said one respondent to the survey.

“What I really prize is my European citizenship but, sadly, that is the one that is most at risk.”

But it’s not just issues around identity, hypocrisy and resentment that are preventing many from applying. Others simply feel they would not meet the criteria, which not only requires five years residence in France but also the ability to speak French to a certain level – AND prove it in an interview –  and to be able to show you can pay your own way in France.

Julian Silver, 52 who lives in the Tarn told The Local becoming French was not an option due to the fact he doesn’t speak the language well enough.

“I could say go on lessons but firstly that is impractical and expensive. And I seem to have a mental block on linguistics of any kind…even computer languages. I had a stroke 10 years ago and had to re-learn to speak afterwards. But I find foreign languages particularly difficult.”

While the language may be barrier for some, for others it was poor health and for many the idea of amassing documents such as parents birth certificates and having them translated into French before waiting another 18 months for an answer was enough to put them off.

“It’s 18 months out of my life that I shouldn’t have to lose. It’s expensive. It’s stressful. It’s not what I would have chosen. And at the end of it all I could still end up with less rights than I’ve got now. It’s not a panacea,” said one respondent to the RIFT survey.

For some taking French nationality was not an option because they would be unable to prove they had “sufficient and stable resources.”

“Taking French citizenship is hardly an option as I’m officially a ‘burden on the state’, in receipt of RSA and Aide au logement. Since 2012 my self-employed accounts show a decreasing ability to support myself,” one British citizen in France who wanted to remain anonymous told The Local.

Another told The Local: “We basically living on savings from the sale of our house in the UK and leading a very simple (cheap) lifestyle being as self sufficient as possible. As a result, we feel that we would not meet the monetary requirements for citizenship.”

Others cited their fear that the British government might make things more difficult for them if they obtain French nationality, although given that they will be able to keep their British nationality there seems no reason to worry this would be the case.

The leader of RIFT’s Kalba Meadows, who analysed the research on the feelings of Brits towards French nationality said: “To put it simply, for a majority of people, citizenship is neither straightforward nor even, necessarily a solution.”

“To suggest that it is ignores the importance of both identity and conscience in the decision of whether to apply for citizenship.”

“While we continue to be told that taking French citizenship is an option if our rights are not upheld post-Brexit, it is not an option available to everyone under current rules,” she said.

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