Many Europeans have benefitted from the right to live and work across the EU. Large numbers of British and French citizens that have crossed the Channel are now worried about their future in their adopted home. EURACTIV France reports.
Jane Freedman, a British sociologist in Paris, cried when she awoke to news of the referendum result on Friday (24 June). “It is horrible what is happening to my country. It is the same as if Le Pen were to win an election in France, this campaign has deeply divided us into xenophobes on the one side and pro-Europeans on the other,” she said.
Freedman now intends to apply for French citizenship for herself and her three children, all of whom were born in the United Kingdom. “I hope it will not be too complicated. Up till now with my European passport I never needed French papers, but now I do,” she said.
And Freedman is by no means the only Brit thinking of changing her nationality in case the EU’s rules on free movement for UK citizens change. “Today I will apply for French nationality,” said another UK citizen called Louise, “even if I want to remain British.”
“Will I be able to continue living here like I did before? I have no idea, we just don’t know.”
This English yoga teacher has lived in France for the last 14 years, meaning she fell just inside the 15 foreign residence limit for voting in the referendum.
“I voted for the first time in my life in this referendum because it was really important. I am very upset about the result,” the young woman said. “I don’t know anyone who lives in another European country that voted for Brexit,” Louise added.
Her grandparents, who live in the North of England, a region that came out massively in favour of Brexit, voted for the UK to leave the EU. “They are very sensitive to the rhetoric about immigration,” she said.
This incomprehension of the UK’s rejection of the European Union is broadly shared by British expats in France.
“When I was young, before leaving Great Britain, I voted for us to join the EU. I am disgusted by the result of this referendum. It is an enormous step back, the result of distressing political incompetence and it will probably have catastrophic consequences for both Britain and Europe,” said Alan, a translation teacher who has lived in France since 1975.
“Why did we ignore all the experts who advised us to vote ‘Remain’? I am just so sad,” said Nicola. This 25 year-old young Scottish woman came to France for her studies two years ago and would like to stay to find a job.
But this may be more difficult after Brexit. “On a personal level, it will certainly be more difficult for me to stay in France to work. I am worried… For the moment I don’t need a visa or a residence permit, but that will probably change and it will probably be harder for me to find a job,” she said.
Frustration from the French in Britain
On the other side of the English Channel, the announcement that Brexit had won the day sowed real doubt in the minds of many French citizens who had chosen to settle in the UK. It even caused some to question their life plans.
“I have had the feeling for a few months now that I don’t have a voice in this country any more. And today, I am voiceless,” said Eliette Riera. This French citizen, who moved to London four years ago, does not understand the British vote. “It is irresponsible, it is incomprehensible,” she said.
Today, Riera is working on a European project for the energy ministry. “I find myself in limbo. I had wanted to stay another four or five years in British public service. But today I am questioning everything. I no longer feel in touch with what is happening in this country,” she said.
Angry young people. And Scots
But EU migrants to the UK are not the only ones to feel that the referendum result does not represent their choice. For the Scots, who overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union, the frustration is perhaps even more palpable.
“I got up at 6.30am and saw the results and I couldn’t believe it. We really thought the Remain camp would win. I only know one person who voted to leave the EU. I am extremely shocked and disappointed,” said Denise McKee, a Scottish teacher.
This French and Spanish teacher fears the vote will have grave repurcussions on Scotland’s future. “In 2014 I voted for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom and my wife voted for independence,” he said. “Normally, this kind of referendum should only take place once in a generation, but I think that with Brexit, a new referendum will take place much sooner.”
Another frustrated portion of the electorate is the young, three quarters of whom voted for ‘Remain’. In the over 65 age group, 61% voted to leave the EU.
“Thoise who voted ‘Leave’ had no well thought-out long-term vision. It was important for future generations for the United Kingdom to be a member of the EU, for us not to isolate ourselves, to work together in unity,” said McKee.
“I see a certain amount of anger too,” said Claire Wilson. “Because many young people voted to remain in the EU, and it’s their parents’ generation who had all the economic advantages and chose to leave.”
For British composer and London resident Dave Maric, salvation may come if Brits are prepared to wait for it.
“In any case, all the statistics show that older voters were more likely to vote for Brexit and isolationism. Soon those people will die and then the world may finally change,” he said.