‘Embarrassed to be British’ post-Brexit survey: Your feedback

‘I make sure the French know I am Scottish [rather than English]’ Six Connexion readers respond to a new study on the effects of Brexit on Britons in the EU

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Connexion readers have shared their views following the publication of a study exploring the effects of Brexit on British people living in the EU last week.

Read more: ‘Embarrassed to be British’: Britons in the EU share views on Brexit

The study, which asked 1,328 British nationals living on a long-term basis in the EU and EEA for their thoughts on how Brexit has impacted them, also highlighted concerns over reduced freedom of movement, identity, settlement and voting rights.

In general, respondents formed part of a settled British population spread across EU and EEA states, many of whom had put down roots and built dual-nationality families in their country of residence. This included around 300 British people living in France.

Some 80% of participants said that their feelings towards the UK had changed radically as a result of Brexit and the UK government’s handling of the pandemic.

Responses including comments such as: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British”, “shambolic”, “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country” and “it’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK...It’s like watching a house on fire”.

How do Connexion readers respond to this?

Reader Hugo Slater, a retired portfolio manager who has lived in in St Denis de Mailloc (Calvados, Normandy) for the past 19 years, said: “Personally I feel angry about Brexit and deprived of an essential part of my dual identity as a British European rather than embarrassed to be British.

“My French friends are for the most part bewildered that the UK should have decided by a narrow margin on such an act of obvious self-harm, but well understand that most Brits in Europe will not have been in favour of Brexit.

“I certainly haven’t encountered any animosity as a consequence of the UK leaving the EU, but rather sympathy and moral support.

“In terms of the purely practical effects, it’s fair to say that others such as the working young for example have been far worse impacted than me.

“This said, despite being resident and fully tax-resident for all this time, I had to go through the tedious process of applying for a carte de séjour permanent like every other Brit resident.

“However, the most annoying effect of Brexit for me has been the loss of the right to vote in local and EU elections, something I valued highly as both a member of my local community and a committed European.”

Read more: Votes for life for Britons abroad

‘England is my home’

Barbara Cloke, a retiree who lives in Morbihan (Brittany), commented: “Yes, Brexit has happened, but am I ashamed to be British? No!

“I have lived here for 20 years plus and still love living here. Hopefully [I will do] for a long time to come.

“The French are so welcoming and friendly and the way of life is so different from the English but France is France and England is England and no matter where I roam England is my home and will always remain in my heart.

“I am not ashamed to say ‘je suis anglaise!’”

Mrs Cloke added that one of the only practical changes she had encountered since Brexit was the need to obtain a carte de séjour, but said that this “was very easy and the French were very helpful.”

Credit: Barbara Cloke

‘Embarrassed to admit to being British’

Another reader and French second-home owner, who asked not to be named, said that she “absolutely concurred” with the views expressed in the post-Brexit study.

“We had to take the decision not to apply [for residency] under the withdrawal agreement due to complicated personal tax issues for us changing regime at the present time,” she said.

“So we continue to be second home owners with British passports, having to navigate the preposterous 90-day limit and being aware of the delays for appointments for long stay visas.

“We have owned our property for 32 years and have remodelled the ruin we bought twice and are renovating a barn on site as well. So, we have contributed much income to local builders and the local economy over the years and it seems most unfair that we cannot now enjoy the fruits of our labours for longer than three months in any six month period.

“I feel totally embarrassed to admit to being British whilst in France and will always err on the side of my Scottish nationality as luckily, many in France realise that the vote in Scotland was unanimous to remain.

“I am utterly furious with the Tory government in Westminster for lying to the British public in order to ‘get Brexit done’- I cannot believe the act of self harm this government has inflicted on our country and look forward to a time when I can become a French resident (albeit without the benefits of the withdrawal agreement).”

‘Warts and all picture of UK should be applied to all countries’

Retiree Simon Yates, from near Melton Mowbray who has a holiday home in Côtes d’Armor, stated that it was “hard to disagree with some of the comments” expressed in the study, but argued that: “people who settle elsewhere either develop an unreal fondness of where they are from or a distaste for their country of origin.

“It’s true that there is polarisation occurring in the UK, but where is this not the case?

“In the part of France where we have a holiday home the local population voted 51% for Macron and 49% for a ‘far-right ‘ candidate - how’s that for polarisation?

“It’s like folks who buy Dacia - good cars but the owners have to be seen to justify their purchase by hearing nothing wrong with it. [It’s the] same for quite a few expats about their new promised land.”

“I do want to reiterate we did not vote for Brexit, but follow the democratic principle - rightly or wrongly - that the majority wins even though we thought the vote was flawed,” he said.

“We love France - such a beautiful country and have found the Bretons to be friendly and very helpful. However if the picture of the UK is ‘warts and all’ then so should it be for all countries.

“We have never had any issue with our Breton neighbours, who are brilliant but have been frustrated by politicians on both sides of the channel – not least threats to cut off electricity to Jersey, the disgraceful and incorrect comments made by President Macron about the AstraZeneca vaccine and the buffoonery of Boris.

‘Whether people like it or not Brexit has happened’

A fellow retiree reader, who lives in southwestern France commented that the study results “demonstrate the rubbish peddled by the left-leaning luvvies who have ‘woe is me’ tattooed around their ankles above their socks and sandals.

He said that he voted for Brexit, adding: “People seem to think everyone who voted for Brexit was a right-wing Johnson or Farage-loving individual.

“This could not be further from the truth in my case.

“There were a number of things that influenced the vote. One was the lack of buy-in by Corbyn and the other was that the EU sat on the fence and did not try to counter what would now be termed as 'fake news': the information being peddled by the Brexit parties.

“Many in the UK were tired of having to do as they were told by Brussels.

“Had the EU members been more supportive of the changes that [David] Cameron was trying to get them to adopt, I am sure things may have been different.

“I accept that things have now changed but I made the choice after 20 years of owning a second home in France to move there permanently in May 2020.

“[I] was grateful, for once, that French bureaucracy made it an easy process and straightforward,” he said, adding that “I am sure [it] was aided by organisations such as the Franco-British Network

“Whether people like it or not Brexit has happened and was the result of a democratic vote. Think about the possibility of those people in the Donbas region whose lives will probably be oppressed following a rigged referendum that means they will be ruled by Russians.

“Don't forget it was Germany and France that prevented Ukraine from gaining Nato membership [back in 2008].

“I understand the freedom of movement argument and how it affects my grandchildren and others. However, for the moment their security is more important to me than worrying about whether they can stay in mainland Europe for extended periods without having to get a visa.

“The UK may not be quite as secure economically as it was before Brexit but with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine the world has changed, nothing stays the same forever and we should all just try and move on.”

‘Emotionally and practically tarnished’

Roger Binney, a retired market research company managing director who has owned a second home in Indre-et-Loire (Centre-Val de Loire) for the last 13 years, said: “The consequences of Brexit are both practical and emotional.

“At a practical level we have [previously] enjoyed the freedom of being able to visit France at will and have been delighted to participate in a French community.

“Now the 90-day rule is a real obstacle. The problem is that there is a need to visit the renovated farmhouse during the winter to check all is well, then to open it up in the spring and close it down in the autumn. This means the 90-day rule severely restricts the key time that you want to be there, the summer months. Even more so if you want to holiday in another part of Europe.

“Previously we would visit our home there five or six times a year, much of which in the summer.

“In our opinion there should be dispensation to house owners giving the right to visit for the permitted 180 days but without the 90 days within 180.

“The prospect of going to London from Wiltshire – where we live – makes visa extensions impractical.

“We contribute to France through full house taxes, car insurance, TV licence and property renovation and maintenance but suffer severe usage limits. Owning a dog has been an additional saga in itself.

“The brash union jack flag waving by the UK government at every media opportunity is truly embarrassing.

“Yes, emotionally and practically tarnished, sadly Brexit will cause us to part with our house much earlier than planned [as we] reluctantly consider selling it.

“If we cannot use the house effectively then we will certainly very sadly think about the value of keeping it as it moves from asset to liability. We have always loved our time in France and have made every effort to join in the community and participate fully.

“I would like to see a political initiative for change for house owners.

“Very sad when the benefits of Brexit sold to the population were blatantly untrue and the predicted downsides are materialising as time goes by to the detriment of the UK population.”

Other readers expressed sadness and frustration at no longer being able to vote in European and mayoral elections while still paying French taxes, losing mobility, having to pay more for mobile phone calls to the UK, and being unable to receive gifts such as “cheese, OXO cubes and English sausages.”

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