Over the years, more than 14,000 British expats have made a home for themselves in Brittany, and their presence is seen everywhere. They’ve restored old granite houses, opened small shops and become active in chess clubs and other community organizations.
The close proximity of Brittany to the UK has attracted many British overseas property investors to this northern corner of France, where you can often get a taste of the old country, with even fish and chips available from shops run by British expats.
But British expats here and elsewhere on the continent have suddenly found themselves consumed by uncertainty. If Prime Minister Theresa May can’t convince European leaders to grant another Brexit extension this week, then Britain is scheduled to possibly crash out of the European Union without a withdrawal deal on April 12. British nationals in Europe could soon be sent home.
Each E.U. country has established its own plan for how to treat resident British expats in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In 11 of the 27 member countries, British expats would automatically be allowed to stay as long as they like. But in 17 countries, they would only get a grace period before they would need to try to claim residency.
In France, they would have up to a year to get their papers in order, or face losing their medical coverage and potentially deportation.
Many have been in touch with the French authorities about residency applications, but have been waiting for months without an answer, while other British expats have been told they should wait to start the process only if Britain leaves without a deal.
Another point of concern has been the decreased value of the British pound. Since June 2016, the British currency has dropped relative to the euro. Pound sterling went from 1.28 euros to 1.17 euros. This has been tough for British residents in France, as many are retirees with British pensions as their sole source of income.
British expats would also be missed by the locals if they were to leave. Maud Camus works at the Huelgoat cafe La Paillotte, where she said about 40 per cent of the clientele are British.
Imagining a future where Brexit makes it difficult for Brits to live in France, she said, ‘If they were not here, this place would be pretty much empty. Without them, it would be pretty much complicated.’
There are many British expats in France and many other European countries eagerly awaiting a deal to be done on the UK withdrawal from the EU.