The border official at Marseille airport laughed heartily when I expressed regret for the result of the Brexit referendum upon presenting my British passport for inspection. On the cover of the passport, in addition to the words ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ (I wonder how long that will still be relevant), and the pretty emblem of the crown protected by the lion and the unicorn, are emblazoned the words ‘European Union.’ Are they now going to have to replace all the British passports? That should keep the two and a half officials who deal with such matters busy for a while. But it makes me wonder whether other British passport-holders share my sense of embarrassment whenever they have to show their passports while travelling around Europe now.
Since I’m currently in France I decided to undertake my own private non-random and non-objective survey of opinions among British expats living here and, as expected, opinions were divided. One person said he would have voted to leave because England was never wholly in Europe anyway. How come? It hadn’t adopted the Euro and wasn’t in Shengen. But it was a fully paid-up member, I protested. That didn’t really signify, was the answer, and come to think of it, the result of the referendum seems to bear this out.
“The vote reflects class differences,” was the reasoning proffered by another ex-pat friend. She went on to expound the theory that the British working class is totally fed up with the system that provides benefits to all and sundry (themselves included), but especially to migrants. These benefits include housing, child-support (even for children resident in another country), unemployment benefit, and various others. They, too, have a point, it seems, but perhaps they are at fault themselves for maintaining the system that allocates these goodies on such a widespread scale.
“All politicians are liars anyway,” another expat told me, “and that’s why I never vote in elections. I don’t believe a single thing any one of them says.” On reflection and in view of recent events and revelations, it would seem that he has a point.
For the moment life goes on pretty much as before for the British expats in France, just as it probably does for the French expats living in England, though both are adversely affected by the depreciation of sterling. It has been suggested that since the numbers of expats on both sides are more or less balanced it will not really serve anyone’s interests to make any major changes.
One French newspaper put a picture of Boris Johnson on the cover of its weekly magazine with the French equivalent of ‘Bloody English!’ as the caption. Some Brits in France are contemplating applying for French citizenship, or at least residency, which is relatively easily obtained (at least five years as a resident and some proficiency in the French language), and that, of course, would resolve many of the problems now starting to be associated with British citizenship. But all that is part of the black hole that is the future.
But most French people don’t seem to be greatly exercised by the whole saga. Their attention has been focused almost entirely on the European football contest that has just ended in the defeat of the home team (Les Blues) by Portugal. But they had a good run for their money and the whole affair served to boost public morale and divert attention from the troubles at home (revolutionary labour laws, unemployment, strikes, go-slows, etc.), and soon we’ll have the Olympic games, and so it goes (the concept of bread and circuses has been around for a very long time). The ancient Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting times,’ seems to be coming home to roost, with a vengeance.