Earlier this summer, Michaela spent three weeks in the Lot—the site of her doctoral research, conducted in 2003-4—to talk Brexit with the British Citizens who had made this corner of rural France their home. Her visit coincided with the anniversary of Britain’s referendum on its continued membership of the EU and the first round of talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union since Article 50 was triggered. In the concluding post in the series, Michaela describes the plans and actions that these Britons are taking to secure their future lives.
Regaining certainty, securing futures
While nothing is certain about the legal position of Britons living in the EU27, many of those I spoke to were making plans for their futures, and trying to counter uncertainties and anxieties through their own actions. They are not unique in this; migrant populations in Britain and EU nationals uncertain about what Brexit will mean for them are making similar moves. In the case of the Britons living in the Lot, this included applying for carte de sejours—residence permits, which they had not been obliged to have for many years—and in some cases starting the process of applying for French citizenship (which they could hold as dual nationals). What became clear was that these moves, were largely about being able to stay put (at least for the foreseeable future), and continue living the way they had up until now, in France where they felt at home. This at least promised some security within the context of considerable uncertainty and were telling of the depth with which they felt Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union might have on their lives.
For others, a future return to Britain was on the cards. While for some, this had always been part of the plan, perhaps brought forward in light of Brexit. For others, this was a new consideration, brought on by the uncertainties around Brexit and what this might mean for their futures:
David: I’m worried that if the finance houses such as the banks and there’s a problem there, my pension originates in England … I would be worried if things went wrong and there was problems with paying our pension, our old age pension, state pension, if they froze that as well … and these uncertainties have brought us to the point where we now think, and my wife Helen is very worried about our future here. I wouldn’t risk her being unwell through worry so I’ve suggested that we sell, we actually sell this house and probably rent a house here in France and … during this time of rental we can start to look for a new home in the UK.
Helen: The other thing that, which we don’t know about is, say we, in the future so we didn’t sell it and, if we can sell it, say in five years’ time and they’ve come to these agreements, and something happens to our money.
David: All these are anxieties … But it will break my heart to move from here. This was an overgrown patch, it was a beautiful piece of land but it’d been neglected for thirty years … all this has turned from being a building site into what you see now, and I’ve put a lot of work in, we both have put a lot of work in haven’t we, into turning this into a home, and it will, it’ll be a sad day when I walked away from this. I think it may happen, and I don’t think we’re going to be the only ones.
As David and Helen’s conversation demonstrates, even for those considering return, this is not an easy decision, but one that is driven by the relative security that moving back to Britain might allow in this situation.
Some concluding thoughts
Even in the absence of knowing what Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will mean in terms of their legal status, it is clear that many of those that I spoke to have been making plans to secure their futures. They counter their uncertainties and anxieties by evaluating their options—how to stay in France, whether to go back to Britain—and starting to take action on the basis of what they believe will be best for their lives. What becomes clear is the extent to which these plans and actions aim to restore certainty to their lives.
What becomes clear is that Brexit as an ongoing process has impacted on many of these migrants in a profound way. It has elicited feelings of uncertainty about their futures and identities, it has caused them to question where they belong, their place in the world, and to evaluate their futures as Britons resident in the EU27.
This is the last in the series of Michaela’s posts about her recent research with the British in the Lot. Later this month the posts in this series will be published as part of a research briefing. You can also listen to Michaela talking about this research in Episode 6 of our podcast series, and in her appearance on the Brexit podcast.