I have had to become something of a political animal over the past few weeks, in an issue that directly concerns me: my life in continental Europe and France, the place where I live and work, where I contribute to the Social Security system to have healthcare when I need it and a pension. I share the same concerns as tens of thousands of other British people in France and 1.2 million of us in the 27 countries of the European Union. To this day, our future depends on the fudging incompetence of our British political system, Labour as well as the Tories.
What do they want? I would be tempted to suspect that the UK is for sale to the highest bidder to turn the country into a rich man’s playground – and to hell with ordinary people, even those who are worn out with work and pride in their jobs. This would be Thatcherism on steroids! Those people seem to have a thoroughly corrupt agenda, worthy of a banana republic, not that of one of the last remaining Kingdoms of the western world. This is my country where I was born, and for which I would have been sent to fight and die had I been born in about 1920. I was brought up to love England, and I still bask in nostalgia for the Lake District, the Costswolds, music by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, John Ireland and that gentle pastoral character of our land. Our United Kingdom (because I don’t discriminate against the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh), with Germany and our Saxon roots, nurtured the Romantic Movement and its philosophy and poetry. Now, it is up for grabs to become a billionaire’s tax haven. Or is it? I have no certitude to make a credible accusation.
When that vote came up in 2016 for leaving or remaining in the European Union, I had already been out of England for more than fifteen years. In such a situation, we don’t have the vote! French people retain the vote for life, wherever they live. I am from a conservative family, and Euroscepticism has been in our family conversations for years. Where did I diverge? I got on a car ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe in 1982 and set off on my adventure in France. I returned to England in 1983 to 1984. I then returned to France. In 1985 I went to Rome. In 1986 I went to Switzerland to study theology. I returned to Italy until 1993 for my seminary training, and was send on pastoral experience back in France. From 1995 to 1996 I spent nearly a year in Bishop Hamlett’s ACC and returned to France, this time to stay. An unsettled existence, all that? Unstable? Perhaps due to my constant feeling of alienation associated with Aspergers autism, which I learned about only in 2016-17. Europe made me cosmopolitan. From someone feeling rootless, I became a European. Europe is an ideal that was born from the strife and atrocity of two world wars and goodness knows how many wars and revolutions before the twentieth century. Since 1945, we have lived in peace and prosperity. This seems to be coming to an end as old demons lurk in our dark sides.
Two years after the referendum, no one knows what is going to happen with Brexit, least of all the British Government. They seem to want to secure a leaving agreement and only a vague fudge about a future relationship, which they can sell as all things to all people. We are divided into leavers and remainers, largely depending on age. The leaving agreement will only cover the rights of EU citizens in the UK, the Irish border and the withdrawal payment. That is all that is required under Article 50. They have been talking about this for two years and nothing is decided.
So let’s have a hard no-deal Brexit! Contracts will be breached and buying and selling goods and services is only possible under contract. The result will be chaos. We seem to be ruled by people who have no conscience or care about destroying the lives and hopes of ordinary people. I prefer dysfunctional and bureaucratic Brussels to the spectre of post-Brexit Britain! Perhaps, this idiotic monster will be stopped, shut down, killed. It seems to be even money at present.
I learn a lot from Remain in France Together and we have a Facebook group. We are now 9,459 members. You can join on condition of answering three questions, and the group is well moderated. The website is very helpful for compiling lists of documents required by the French authorities: birth certificate and sworn translation, passport, proof of address, proof of uninterrupted residence in France, tax statements and health coverage. I have not had a residence permit since my old one ran out in 2004. The Prefecture of the Vendée at the time told me it was not necessary as we Brits belong to the EU. Why bother with something that is no longer required?
It is going to be needed when the UK jumps off the cliff next March. I want to be a legal resident in France and not have endless bother getting back to France after a visit to England. I went to the Prefecture in Rouen this morning to get my Carte de Séjour application appointment. I had to wait my turn for about 1 1/2 hours to get the appointment. I expected it, so read a book while the numbers turned. It was not possible by internet or phone. That is understandable given their workload. When my turn came up, the man was very helpful and pleasant. He told me that France was getting ready for a no-deal Brexit, and that 700 extra customs officers would be taken on. He said in a friendly voice that France would not leave us on the beach like at Dunkerque. He alluded to 1940. He was extraordinarily well informed, not at the level of ignorance found in functionaries deplored by those who have been treated shabbily by other Prefectures in France. I have my appointment for 15th November. I will probably have to wait about two months for the card, which should be in time for the fateful date. In the meantime, I intend to set my application for French nationality into motion – and that takes up to about two years! It will be worth it, because I would then recover my full freedom of movement to travel to other European countries as a European.
Acquiring citizenship of another country is more than just an administrative procedure – it involves our whole belief system and sense of identity: as such is an emotional, philosophical and ethical decision, not just a pragmatic one. And that complicates the issue for many.
What is going to happen? It will depend on whether the British Government and the EU come to an agreement this month. If those negotiations break down, it will be a hard Brexit or no Brexit, preferably the latter. The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs presented a bill enabling the government to take measures by decree to prepare for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. This would include provision for British expatriates (British Europeans) to keep the rights we presently enjoy. Presently, we are faced with the worrying attitude of “tit-for-tat” between Westminster and Brussels. However, I have the impression that Europe might prove more generous and compassionate than Theresa May who would limit immigration to those who earn more than £50,000 per annum, about twice the salary of a NHS doctor!
It is all very “iffy” because nothing is decided until everything is decided. In the event of a hard Brexit, such legislation might not be possible.
There’s not much we can do other than pray and encourage each other, especially British pensioners who fear being deported on a whim or not allowed to receive their pensions. We are all in different situations, and all that has to be sorted out by the Prefecture functionaries. I don’t envy them! They are not that well paid, and they work hard. They can’t go quicker than the machine! Those of us who have been here several years and are married to a spouse of French nationality are safe. The procedure for acquiring nationality par déclaration (by marriage) as opposed to par décret is relatively simple. It is merely a legal confirmation of an existing situation de facto. This is a wonderful example of law coming after established fact like in Canon Law. In a couple of years, I’ll enter England with my British passport and return to France with my EU French one.
Many of us are going to demonstrations in London later this month to make people aware of the numbers of British expatriates in the EU. I’m afraid I don’t have the time or the money to go. What I can do is to research and write about the European ideal, just as I found in writings by Romantic philosophers and writers. I need to know more about the development of the present European Union and discern its ideals over and above simply economic or regulatory considerations. It is another objective of my Blue Flower. The pen (or computer keyboard) is mightier than the sword!
I beg British readers of my blog to reconsider if they voted to leave the EU. We were told lies in 2016, and I don’t think anyone intentionally voted for chaos and instability, for catastrophe and mass homelessness and poverty. I appeal to all to support in any way possible any number of movements to stop Brexit and make the UK a key player in the future of Europe through our true patriotism, culture, prestige and business talents. There may be another referendum. There may only be the possibility to petition MP’s to kill Brexit and avert a human catastrophe on a scale of more than a million persons.
Solidarność! – as the Polish workers cried in the 1980’s led by the determination and spirituality of Pope John-Paul II. Theirs too was a struggle for humanity and our dignity in the sight of God. Let us put away our populist and simplistic temptations of nationalistic jingoism for the sake of nobility of spirit and being right with God.
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Update, a couple of articles about the British diaspora in Europe.
- Far more Britons live in Europe than government statistics suggest
- Long read: let’s ditch the stereotypes about Britons who live in the EU
In my own experience, I have little to do with other Britons in France, except on the Facebook group. I live in an area that is on the English Channel coast, but where fewer Britons live than in the Dordogne for example or even in the Vendée where there are shops selling Marmite and Worcestershire sauce among other things. Married to a French woman, I have become totally integrated except in the recesses of the secret garden of my own mind.
British people don’t have the esprit du corps of eastern Europeans, for example, united by religion. We are frustratingly individualist, and I have met very few expats who would be remotely interested in attending church services. It takes a certain amount of independent thinking to leave England and live in another country where the language and culture are different. The stereotypes are still in the collective consciousness, the wealthy retired and nostalgic for the old Empire or middle-aged folk looking for the Good Life that is beyond their financial means in England.
To those we left behind in England, as the years pass, migrating almost seems to be seen as morally reprehensible. We can easily be seen as cheats avoiding paying taxes in the UK. Unlike the Americans, we don’t pay tax in the UK if we don’t live there or have any income, and we generally do not benefit from any tax-funded services. It is a temptation to see ourselves as colonists, but the Great Invisible Empire of Romantia is only a whim of the mind. We live in other countries because they let us in, and we are expected to learn and respect their cultures and languages – and not be a burden on their welfare systems.
This is an aspect of multiculturalism seen “from the other side”. Expat Britons tend to be discreet and respectful, but we do need something of our own identity. It is not without a reason that I still write in English and refer to what was familiar to me until I was in my early twenties. If we expect to survive in a world that becomes increasingly nationalist and ideologically driven, we have to integrate and play the game in society.