Brexit reveals Britons' undocumented lives in France

Brexit has shone a light on the fact that some Britons have been living in France “undocumented”, says a university lecturer in the UK who is leading a project about its impact on British people living in EU countries.

29 October 2019

Examples in France include British residents who have not joined a state Cpam health body [Editor’s note: or obtained private health insurance] and have, incorrectly, been using British Ehics in France long-term instead.

Dr Michaela Benson, of Goldsmiths, University of London, has been studying Britons in south west France in particular.

She said: “The twists and turns of Brexit have been extraordinary and there is still a risk of no-deal at some stage.

“My concern is to look at the range of things happening to British people.

“Some have been well-positioned to mitigate against uncertainties and some have not.

“It’s an important part of the story that is not being well-told in the UK press, although Connexion has covered it.

“There are also those living on very little who may struggle to demonstrate that they are here legally as EU citizens or those whose circumstances are not good due to unemployment to demonstrate their right to be here.

“There is also the problem of people trying to change or obtain jobs because in the minds of some employers and local bureaucrats Britons are no longer EU citizens and some are turned down. Brexit has impacts, whether it happens or not.”

She said another issue is people whose longest record of social security payments, including voluntary contributions, is in the UK but who also worked in another third-party EU state, and are now asking if they can obtain an S1 from that state instead if the UK S1s stop.

“Brexit has highlighted how, in reality, EU freedom of movement was conditional and we’re starting to see some fractures that you wouldn’t have seen before, because Britons were very rarely questioned over their right to be in France.”

That includes such anomalies as the fact that Britons were given France’s Aspa pension top-up despite EU rules saying newcomers should be able to support themselves.

She added that even where people are able to obtain citizenship, Brexit is still affecting them, especially if they rely on UK income.

The fact that France has created a user-friendly cartes website is positive, she said.

“It’s a giant leap for France. There have been moments of reassurance, like this. It has not all been doom and gloom and despair.”

The project has launched a new website at brexitbritsabroad.org which includes a timeline, Brexit myth-busters and testimonies.
                      

French economist Vincent Lagarde of Limoges University is also studying the effect of Brexit in southwest France.

He said there has been good news for estate agents as Britons looked to buy in Dordogne and Creuse before Brexit in case it is more complicated afterwards, or to establish residency.

Several Britons have moved to live with families here, fearing it might be harder later on.

This year, British tourists were less numerous, mostly due to the pound. But they were compensated by other English-speaking tourists, so British-run tourism businesses did not suffer.

“However, I am coming across British freelancers who have lost contracts and markets because would-be European clients are worried they will not be able to deal with them in a no-deal.”

He said he was heartened by a letter, in the local Living Magazine, in which Nouvelle-Aquitaine president Alain Rousset told Britons that people are “used to your colourful presence”, with “our cultures intertwining for the best” and “I cherish what we have built together”. He added: “Your region will always lend you a helpful hand.”

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