'Let Brit expats become French'

French professor of law Patrick Weil, who has worked with the French government on reports leading to new laws on immigration and nationality policy, believes France can – and should – offer citizenship to British expats. Here, in his own words, he explains:

Let’s remember Churchill, and have France offer its citizenship to the British!

On June 16, 1940, when France was on the brink of military defeat, Winston Churchill proposed a full union of the peoples of France and the United Kingdom. This offer would have created a common citizenship for all French and Britons, and was supported by General De Gaulle. But the French government rejected it only a few hours before it demanded the infamous Armistice with the Nazis.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, let’s not forget what unites the French and the Brits. And especially, let’s not engage in insults, as too many French have taken to doing since last Thursday: “Go on, get out! Hurry up and leave, les anglais, don’t make us wait!” These reactions of frustration and anger are even more astonishing when they come from European leaders, as they camouflage these leaders’ impotence to address the situation. It is not up to them to set the agenda. The British authorities have the power to choose when to activate article 50 of the European Union Treaty, if they ever decide to use it, and so the Europeans will simply have to wait.

So what can we do until then? What is to be done besides wait for British politicians to sort through the chaos?

There is at least one thing that can be done immediately. We should think of the millions of British who currently make concrete use of their European citizenship, whether by spending their lives in continental Europe or in Ireland, or by marrying European citizens of other nationalities. Their European citizenship means a lot to them, and at present they are about to lose it.

In France, British citizens have contributed to the revival of a great number of villages abandoned by their native population. They have voted in local elections, have been elected to municipal councils, and actively participate in the life of local communities. To all Britons who have formed such attachments to France, our message can only be one of welcome. And this welcome can, and must, take the form of immediate French citizenship for those that seek it.

Before the end of July, the French Parliament can pass a bill that would permit any British citizen residing in France or married to a French citizen for at least one year, to become French by naturalisation, or by declaration for those with French spouses. Such a special provision — not exceptional in French legal history — could be implemented immediately and remain in effect until the official exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

It would not presume to determine the future of the UK within the EU. Rather, it would serve to send the message that the French have not forgotten their common past with the UK, and that they remain willing to build a future together.

The French version of this article is available here.