Three Million Brits Could Be French

Good news! The Entente Cordiale is alive and well. Last week French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister, Theresa May, met up for a Franco British summit. A day of discussions where the two leaders agreed to agree on those things they could agree on – namely immigration an defence. Further cooperation in military matters and tougher action on immigrants. Of course no mention of Brexit, however Britain’s future EU exit was in the news, when the French authorities published figures showing that the number of British citizens seeking to acquire French nationality had risen ten fold in 2017.

Statistics vary, but there are reckoned to be 200,000 British citizens who have made France their home. This number arises to around 500,000 when second-home owners and other Brits with an economic interest in France are taken into account. In 2015 there were only 386 demands from permanent Brits to obtain French Nationality. In 2016 this rose to 1363, in 2017, a staggering 3173 Brits had registered for French nationality.

Over the course of the week, the nation’s media headed for those far flung corners of rural France where Brits love to live, and interviewed numerous ex-pats about their reasons for becoming “Français.” No surprise when the majority replied that their move was an “insurance policy.” Anyone carving out an existence in La Belle France, whether running their won business, or like myself, working as a civil servant, acquiring French nationality is a survival reflex. Basically after Brexit will we be able to live and work in France on the same terms as before if we remain British? No one knows and no one wants to take the risk.

It was such a simple and reassuring arrangement – as Brits and EU Citizens we could all pretty much live and work as the French did and retain our nationality – Thanks to EU rules we were even allowed to vote in local and Mayoral elections – that suited me, though with the way politics were going in France, I wanted my say at national level – disappointed by François Hollande’s victory in the 2012 presidential election and also very worried by the rise of the Front National, I wanted to vote, besides as a taxpayer, NO taxation without representation.

Insurance policy? Yes a good reason for acquiring French nationality, but all the Brtis interviewed last week made the same point, whether they had been here just a few years or almost a lifetime, they now felt French. Many made the point that leaving Britain had been a life choice, they had sold up and moved over. Heading back to live in the UK is simply out of the question.

I suppose my case is not uncommon. My entire life is in France – family, home, job … I’ve been here for almost 30 years and emotionally and financially I could not go back to live in the UK. On my trips back to Britian I feel like a stranger in a strange land – yes I speak English, Yes I am British, but ain’t got a clue how the place works, and imagine, after 30 years, I have to begin a new life from scratch – find a job, find somewhere to live … There is also of course the financial differential – sell up here and move back to my home town of London. For the price I’d get for my hous in France, I doubt even that I could afford a garden shed back in London.

“You can always live in another part of the UK,” says another ex-pat friend. Not an option, I want to live in London.

Can’t go back, won’t go back and now we feel just a little more French than before, so we might as well take the plunge and go “français.” – so was the verdict of many ex-pats.

And of course, being French means we remain EU citizens with freedom of movement right across all member states of the European Union. When Britain finally leaves, will UK citizens need visas to travel, live and work in other European countries?   Can you imagine asking for a permit to work in Holland or Belgium? That’s crazy.

So what will happen to UK ex-pats? 200,000 in France, 600,000 in Spain – there are reckoned to be 1.3 to 1.5 million British ex-pats across Europe. What guarantees for their rights? And what about the French living in the UK?

Statistics vary on just how many French citizens live in the UK? In the 2011 census, figures put the number of French passport holders in The UK at around 80,000. French Embassy figures for the same period are around 85,000; though there are websites that claim as many as 400,000 French people are living and working in London alone – this would make London France’s sixth biggest city. The Huffington Post website probably has the best estimate of the number of French UK residents – 300,000 French expats living in the UK, with around 200,000 of these living in or around London. What does the future hold for Frech ex-pats and just how many will be seeking to acquire British nationality?

According to one UK ancestory site, there are around 3 million Brits who can claim to have some French ancestory. Would they be allowed to register for French nationality? Just because one of your ancestors came over with William the Conqueror, does this make you French – and this brings me to my closing point

At the Franco British (or Anglo-French) summit, President Emmanuel Macron has said that the British can have the Bayeux Tapestry “on loan” for the next four years, whilst the tapestry’s permanent museum home in the Normandy town of Bayeux, is revamped. For those readers not in the know, the Bayeux tapestry records the story of William, Duke of Normandy’s 1066 victory over Anglo Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings – yes, it is a vast tapestry depicting a French victory and an English defeat.

Oh mon dieu – losing out on Brexit and now the French are reminding us of another loss.