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How come Boris Johnson’s father was able to become French?

Stanley Johnson lives in the UK so his route to gain French nationality would have been an unusual one. He previously said he valued having a tie to the European Union

Stanley Johnson has said he feels ‘very happy’ about being French Pic: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

The father of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Stanley Johnson, has become French despite being born in Cornwall and having his main home in the UK.

The 81-year-old writer, environmentalist and former Conservative MEP will have claimed the right via filiation – that is through his parents, since his mother, Irene Williams, was French.

The leading Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa, reported on Tuesday (May 17) that Mr Johnson’s French nationality was set to be confirmed officially yesterday.

“The second nationality, additional to that of his birth, will take effect on May 18, thanks to a procedure that he… had put in motion at the start of 2021, shortly after Boris had signed, at the last minute, a commercial deal with the EU.”

This was later confirmed to AFP by the French Ministry of Justice.

“Based on the facts set out in his application, and in the absence of a refusal by the Minister of Justice, Mr Stanley Johnson acquired French nationality on May 18, 2022,” the Ministry of Justice stated.

“This decision concerns only Mr Stanley Johnson and does not extend to his descendants.”

Note, the latter statement relates to the official confirmation of Mr Johnson's French nationality, not to the possibility of his descendants potentially also seeking to claim nationality. 

He first spoke about this in 2020

In 2020 when Mr Johnson first spoke about claiming French nationality he told RTL Radio: “If I understand it correctly, I am French. My mother was born in France, her mother was totally French as was her grandfather so for me it is about reclaiming what I already have. And that makes me very happy.”

He added: “I will always be a European, that’s for sure. One cannot tell the British people ‘you are not Europeans.’ Having a tie with the European Union is important.”

What is his background?

Mr Johnson was born in Penzance, Cornwall, to a British father, Wilfred, and to Irene Williams, who was born in Versailles also to mixed-nationality parents, Marie-Louise von Pfeffel and Stanley Fred Williams.

He otherwise is not widely reported to maintain close links with France – he lives between a farm on Exmoor and London, and his holiday home is in Greece – though he would have spent time in Strasbourg as Conservative MEP for Wight and Hampshire East from 1979 to 1984.

Mr Johnson, who was criticised for a trip to his Greek villa in 2020 at a time when the UK government was advising against all but 'essential' international travel, will now be able to enjoy longer stays (beyond 90 days) there than he would have before obtaining an EU nationality.

Formerly a Remainer, Mr Johnson spent time working as an official at the European Commission in Brussels from 1973-1979 and again in 1984-1994. 

However in a radio interview with Nigel Farage in 2019 after his son had become Prime Minister he stated he was now a Leaver and had faith in his son’s ability to deliver on his promises.

Becoming French by filiation

French rules on nationality by filiation say a child is already French if one of their parents is French, wherever they are born, so his mother was also “totally French”, as Mr Johnson is.

An avocate with expertise in nationality law, Kerlyne Bernard from Antibes, said: “If his mother was French before he was born, in principle he was born French and it is only a formality to ask for naturalisation [obtaining French nationality].”

This would also apply to Boris Johnson himself, due to the same rule, she said. “Since his father was born French, he is French in principle too and can have French nationality if he wants – if he asks for it.”

She said the main evidence required for Stanley Johnson would have been proof of his relationship to his mother and the fact she was French before he was born, for example, using birth certificates. He would have applied to the French consulate in London, as he does not live in France.

This is different from the ordinary naturalisation route taken by foreign people who have lived in France for more than five years, which involves a large amount of paperwork, or the déclaration process, for example, for people who have a French spouse.

It is also different from the situation of a child born in France to foreign parents or being the child of a parent who later becomes French.

In the first case, the child has the right to claim nationality at certain ages on proof of having lived habitually in France (it happens automatically at 18 if the person still lives in France). Only under-18s have a right to become French if their parent takes French nationality after they are born.

Previous articles

Post Brexit, number of French people gaining British nationality soars

Obtaining French nationality can take up to four years, study shows

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