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35 years of owning a French second-home; being a 'pays tiers' hurts

‘There are tens, even hundreds of thousands of us, penalised, with no choice, nor rights, nor voice. Pre-Brexit owners should have a special status like residents do’

Henry has owned a ‘much-loved’ second-home in Nouvelle-Aquitaine for the past 35 years Pic: Henry*

A French second-home owner has told of his sadness on becoming a third country national following the UK’s exit from the EU - and asks that long-term owners have a special status as residents do.

Henry* suggests a system could be put in place which would enable people who owned second-homes before Brexit to enjoy the same rights as before with regards to moving personal possessions between countries. 

Henry has owned his “much-loved” house in Corrèze (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) with his wife for the last 35 years.

“We’ve improved it a lot, in the local style, using local craftspeople and plenty of our own labour,” he said. 

“We mixed mortar, laid handmade tile floors, installed a wood-burning stove, worked with a joiner to build a new kitchen, balcony, and tool shed. 

“Ten or 12 weeks a year, our summer family holidays plus spring and autumn breaks on our own have been idyllic despite the annual maintenance cycles.  

“We have made good friends and neighbours in France, entertaining each other in our homes and chatting when we pass.”

Over the years, Henry and his family decided they would benefit from having a property which was more suitable for visits at any time of year than their “mountain summer home” and are now in the process of finding a new property.

‘That’s where the problems begin, thanks to Brexit.’

“Joining the EU had made me feel free at last, a European, reclaiming the birth right of my migrant ancestors.  

“My grandparents emigrated to the UK from Europe. My mother’s first language as a girl was Spanish. Some of their relations who didn’t leave were murdered by the Nazis.”

Henry now feels that his and his children’s heritage and rights as EU citizens have been snatched away by the consequences of Brexit. 

“French people’s warmth and hospitality haven’t changed one bit, but suddenly we are now third country aliens, subject to restrictions on entry, length of stay, customs duty on personal possessions, visas and seemingly endless paperwork,” he said.

“No longer can we expect to furnish our new second-home freely. Inexpensive items, painstakingly sought at private sales and auctions, will cost many times as much in removal company vans charges, accompanied by paperwork and customs duties. 

‘No choice, nor rights’

“Our English friends who recently moved to France [before the Brexit cut-off deadline] permanently enjoy pre-Brexit status, while we, who fell in love with the French countryside and way of life, are somehow no longer the same people we were a year or two ago,” he said.

“There are tens, even hundreds of thousands of us, penalised, with no choice, nor rights, nor voice.  

“Together we could and should be a force for a more humane policy, one that treats people who own and look after houses in France at face value, not as isolationists, cash cows or crypto-Francophobes.  

“But we are not a force. No one is organising, or speaking out for us.  

“Brexit is the worst self-harm committed in my lifetime. The UK does seem more relaxed about private UK citizens moving their personal possessions from the EU but government pettiness on both sides of the channel penalises everyone even more. 

“I was hoping France would proudly rise above that, considering a great many Brits have second homes there, but very few the other way round.”

“Can France show their bigger heart and help us?” he asked. 

*Name changed on reader’s request

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