We decided to move to France in 2012, when we were living in Australia. With both sets of parents in and around the UK, and not getting any younger, we wanted to be closer to family for ourselves and our 3 young sons.
The nucleus of the idea to move to France came from a “why not?” moment. We had got used to the sun in New South Wales after 9 years there, and wanted a fresh experience. We viewed Europe as an extension of the UK. We would have free right of movement and as long as we could earn enough money, of residence.
Starting up in France opened my eyes to a certain “French Bureaucratic Style”! I was expecting it, having been reading blogs from non-French residents. So we adopted the attitude to expect issues and delays, and were not disappointed. But as one friend put it, once you do get yourself sorted, into the health and social security systems, business set up, tatty French driving license obtained and children in school, you feel you have earned the right to stay for lasting the course!
We found our area of France (Languedoc) to be warm hearted, friendly and quirky, which we love. Along with the mountains, beaches, great wine and fantastic transport links to the UK and rest of Europe, it is a great place to bring up a family. I was able to set up a few online businesses, based here in France and in the UK; Interestingly enough, slowly the European sales began to take off, more so than the UK sales and then fast outpacing them. It demonstrated to me the power of simple accessibility to a large consumer market alongside a great logistics network to support it.
And as our children progressed through school (they were 10 months, 2 and 4 when we first arrived), they became bilingual, with the regional French accent to boot! Activities such as pottery, skiing, judo, rugby, football and tennis have all allowed us to integrate a little and feel part of the local community. And whilst never saying never (we have moved around far too much for that!), we were seemingly set … and then came the Referendum.
I had assumed the debate would be more mature. I wanted more deep-seated arguments, more detailed explanations, not headlines and emotive photographs; I genuinely wanted to hear more than basic arguments for and against. Yet despite not hearing much of worth, I could ultimately find no logic to the argument to leave, or rather not enough compared to the positives for staying. Having been outside the UK for 13 years, I could and did vote. My wife was denied a vote, as she had never been entered onto the electoral register when in the UK. Despite being born and bred in the UK, abroad for less than 15 years, her right to vote was denied.
Disappointed at the result would have been an understatement! Shocked, yes; surprised, yes; angry, definitely (still am!). The best phrase I heard after referendum, with regard the UK and its issues, was, ‘We had a headache, so we shot our foot off! Well, we still have the headache, but now only one foot!’.
Like many Brits in Europe and our fellow Europeans in the UK, we have looked on aghast at the pernicious discourse and environment seemingly developing in the UK. Alongside this we are witnessing a bumbling government’s attempts to enact highly improbable promises to a divided electorate. We have absolutely no faith in the UK government’s competence and indeed, view the EU as ironically looking to our interests more with their initial position paper on British citizens’ rights in the EU (rejected, or more accurately “ignored” by the UK government) than the UK government who have shown not the slightest interest in their overseas citizens.
So we have to look after ourselves. We do not want to be forced to leave France. We would like to have the freedom to live and work in Europe. Whilst realizing the EU has its issues and needs more transparency, we feel this change should be instigated from within the club. So having been in France for over 5 years now, we are looking at French citizenship, for the whole family. We will do what is necessary. But (and there is always one!) I cannot help but feel, that people like ourselves, in the UK and the EU, caught between the lines and looking for a solution, either through moving back to the EU or obtaining citizenship / right to stay in an EU country, are the type of people who find solutions, who are willing to risk a lot, who are often skilled and open minded, and ominously are those who the UK is turning its back on.
I do not think this will turn out well.