Brexit vote leaves the British in the shadows

Sun setting over Loubejac with dark clouds and blue sky
Sun setting over Loubejac

IT is six years since the UK voted to leave the European Union, with its supporters promising a new future for the country and promising that ‘nothing would change’.

For many on this side of the Channel it has been a time of great unease, at first wondering what the future might bring, with rumours and possible scenarios leading to many a sleepless night.

As the weeks, months and years progressed it felt like the sands were forever changing beneath our feet as questions remained unanswered.

Constant questions day after day

Would British people retain the right to work in France and the EU? Would pensions and health cover continue? Would British children living in the EU have access to education in the UK?

How easy would it be to travel with your French family members to the UK? Could we ever move back to the UK? Would it be possible to bring older parents to France for long term support?

What changes would there be for those living in France and working in the UK? Would past qualifications be recognised as they were before? Could we still bring our dog on holiday?

Many of these questions have been answered, some not, but invariably it has resulted in more cost, increased paperwork and extended periods of time worrying about things that used to cause little concern.

A French halle hosts a small fair with people sat at tables and chairs
Village fair in Loubejac

Elections highlight the loss

And it was the recent French elections that brought home to me that for many they have no representation in the corridors of power, on either side of the Channel.

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For years I have been writing about the 15 year rule and how British people lost their right to vote back in the UK.

And it feels that I’ve been writing for about 15 years that this rule would be quashed and that a right to vote for those who have been outside the UK long term would be able to vote once again.

The wait continues.

But the Brexit vote has also cut any representation British people had with local democracy, cutting them adrift from having any influence on their day-to-day life.

Clearly the presidential and legislative votes of the past couple of months are only open to French nationals, but that vote on 23 June, 2016, has also stripped the vote many enjoyed at a local level.

The ‘shadow people’

The role of the mayor in local French politics is very different to that of the UK, they have much more influence and connection with the different levels of government in France.

They can be a helpful route to ensure the voice of local people is heard, especially in the countryside, but that is now gone for British people and it almost feels like we are ‘shadow people’ still with a voice that is not being heard.

Gaining French nationality is one way around this issue, but for many they are still worried about what changes to legislation might bring, especially if a future UK government changes pension and health rules for dual nationals or those who have left the country.

A walking route points towards a countryside lane
Walking route for summer events

I already know of people who have decided to leave France and return to the UK due to the many questions and concerns that they were struggling to find an answer for.

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Others have been hit by the 90 day rule, meaning they have to squeeze all they want to do into a shorter period of time, missing out on different experiences and being aware that they have a strict deadline by which they have to cross the border back to the UK.

It is easy for politicians and commentators to say that it is ‘time to move on’ as none of them have seen their day-to-day life filled with ‘what ifs and maybes’ whilst still trying to enjoy life in France.

Time may be a great healer, but for many the referendum vote remains a painful sore.

Last Updated on 23 June, 2023.

By Craig McGinty

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