Britons in France lose sangfroid as ‘Le Brexit’ fear looms large

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For Britons in France, the upper lip is stiff no more.
Louise Garavaglia, who has lived in France for more than two decades, is rushing to apply for a French passport before the June 23 “Brexit” referendum in the U.K. and has no time for “wait and see.” For his part, Paris-based financial consultant Paul Johnson-Ferguson is getting birth certificates translated in time to apply for French citizenship.
With just over two months to go before the referendum that will determine whether the U.K. stays in the European Union, some of the estimated 1.2 million Britons like Garavaglia and Johnson-Ferguson living and working in the 27 other EU member states are worried about what a possible exit will mean for their status in the countries of their residence. Some are scrambling to ensure they don’t have to make life-changing moves.
“There are risks you can’t afford to take when your family life and livelihood are at stake,” said Garavaglia, 47, in a phone interview. Married to a Frenchman, she has two Franco-British boys and owns a language school in Paris.
“If the U.K. moves out of the EU, I may land up being treated like any other foreigner here, one just doesn’t know,” said Johnson-Ferguson, who has lived in Maisons-Laffitte, in the Western suburbs of Paris, since 1998. “I don’t particularly want to be French, but I’m risk averse so I’d rather hedge my bets.”

Privileges Revised?
If the vote puts an end to 43 years of U.K.’s EU membership, Britons’ right to stay, work and access to pensions, health care and public services in the countries of the bloc will be among a long list of issues to be negotiated within a two-year delay set out by Article 50 of the EU treaty. If talks fail, those privileges may not be maintained, according to a U.K. government memo published on Feb. 29.
At a conference in London, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron warned that leaving the EU would have consequences. It would make the U.K. “just like Hong Kong, Jersey or Guernsey, ” he said, adding ominously: “Leave the club and you’ll be alone.”
Friday was the first day of official campaigning ahead of the June 23 vote, with some polls suggesting the outcome is too close to call.
Individuals, like businesses, are trying to make sense of what such as exit might mean for them. The worry is perceptible among the large British communities in Spain, Ireland, France and Germany, the four EU members that according to the United Nations are home to the largest number of U.K. citizens, totaling about 852,000.

Dual Citizenship
Garavaglia, worried she might not be able to return home to Paris from a holiday abroad, continue to freely travel to-and-fro from the U.K. or legally represent her company, passed the required French language test in February. She’s now busy getting legal documents translated to get French citizenship, usually a formality for long-standing residents, especially for those with a French spouse and children.
“For many people, if you get dual citizenship you have no more difficulties,” said Christopher Chantrey, Chairman of the British Community Committee.
Letters to the French administration and the British government seeking guidelines have gone unanswered, he said.
Recent data on British requests for citizenship or long-term residency in France aren’t available, said a spokeswoman for the French Interior Ministry, who asked not to be named in line with government policy. Processing applications takes at least one year, she said.
Spotting that British residents in the rest of the EU have more than a passing interest in the U.K. remaining in the bloc, the government has been urging them to register to vote. On its web home page, the British Community Committee has also posted an appeal to get U.K. citizens to protest against the fact that those who’ve resided outside the country for more than 15 years are barred from the poll.

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