What would happen to Britons in France if UK left EU?

BRITAIN’S recent veto of a EU treaty on economic convergence raised the prospect of it leaving the union – an unlikely event but one which would have many implications for Britons in France.

The status of “foreigner” (no longer a “European”) would change matters from healthcare entitlement to the right to live and work in France.

This was not the intention of the veto and new rules are likely to be agreed among other countries; however a columnist in The Economist said the UK may “stumble out of full membership, largely by accident”.

The veto led to tensions between France and Britain, with Prime Minister François Fillon telephoning the UK’s deputy PM to calm matters after barbs about Britain’s economy from leading French figures.

Le Figaro found 81.5% of 66,000 readers in an online poll said the UK “no longer has a place in Europe” while satirical magazine Charlie Hébdo targeted Britons on its cover.

Mr Sarkozy told Le Monde there were now two Europes – one wanting more “solidarity” and “regulation”, the other only interested in the single market. However, he added: “We need Great Britain and it would be a great impoverishment to see it go – which, thankfully, is not happening”.

A British legal expert told Connexion there were two possible scenarios for a split:

1. Britain could sever all institutional and economic links and there would almost certainly be a treaty regulating future relations, with stipulations as yet unknown.

2. It could leave the EU but remain in the larger European Economic Area, in which case there would be minimal difference for Britons, he said.

Severing all links with no treaty was very unlikely, he said. In that case whether France would allow transitional arrangements to organise residence permits, would depend on the political climate.

London School of Economics Europe expert Maurice Fraser said: “David Cameron has said Britain will remain a full and committed member of the EU, and there is no prospect of a referendum on membership. Even among the most outspoken eurosceptics, only a very small minority are arguing for Britain’s withdrawal.”

Oxford sociologist Dr Theodore Zeldin, who served on a committee of advisers to President Sarkozy in 2007, said, should it happen:“Britons would be in the same position as other foreigners in France and they seem to survive”.

It may be that money would become a more important issue, he said. “Take the way that the French treat Russians – if they have money it’s fine.”

The biggest fear for British residents was the value of the pound, a matter unrelated to EU membership. He added: “I

don’t think attitudes of the French to the British would be different because they have always considered Britain outside

Europe.”

Practical effects of leaving would include:

  • More complex residency rules. Europeans can live and work in France with no permit as long as they arrive with sufficient means so as not to be a burden on social security and, if not working and not EU state pensioners, have private health insurance. After five years they can apply for a permanent residents’ card granting healthcare rights.
  • “Foreigners” have no automatic right to live and work in France and must apply for a range of permits of different lengths depending on circumstances, which may stipulate they are to work or alternatively not to work and to live on one’s own means, or to join close family in France etc.
  • They must sign a “welcome and integration contract” of a year or more, requiring classes in French values and language.
  • British work qualifications would not come under mutual recognition rules.
  • In healthcare, EHICs and S1s would be cancelled. Travel insurance would be essential and those not in work would join the CMU for French healthcare (typically through paying-in a percentage of their annual income).
  • Expatriation of profits (rental income, dividends...) would attract withholding tax.
  • Direct inward investment (including buying homes) would become subject to exchange control – at best a prior declaration and at worst prior licensing requirements.
  • British university fees for French residents would be at higher international rates.
  • British students would not be able to study in France under Erasmus/Socrates schemes.
  • Capital gains tax would be 33% on holiday homes of British residents instead of 19%.
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