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13 July 2024

Britons in France ponder nationality over EU referendum

For the first time since she moved from Britain to France 18 years ago, Frances Bucquet is seriously considering taking French citizenship -- and she
blames British Prime Minister David Cameron.
English teacher Bucquet is angry at the premier's announcement his government would hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union if it wins the next elections.
"I feel a bit embarrassed that my original country could be so uninterested in everybody else. I'm pretty annoyed about it actually," she told AFP.
She said she would be happy to take on French nationality, partly because she could retain her British passport.
"I wouldn't mind taking French nationality too because I want to be part of things over here," she added.
The French statistics office INSEE says there are almost 154,000 British citizens living in France.
If Britain were to quit the EU, the status of British nationals in their adopted home country could change, raising practical questions about issues like French voting, residency and work rights.
But the rising tide of euroscepticism in the UK is also affecting British people in France on a more personal level. Bucquet and her French husband Jacques are concerned that one day their two children, who were born in France, will feel forced to choose between the two sides of their identities.
"If you're brought up with two cultures, two languages, they're part of you. You can't choose between them. You need both," she said.
The general mood in France seems somewhat ambivalent about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union if the results of two surveys, both published at the end of January, are to be believed. One study, by pollsters BVA, found that 52 percent of French people want the UK to go. But the other, conducted by IFOP, found 58 percent were in favour of the British staying in the club.
Ken Tatham, originally from the northern English city of Leeds, is France's first ever English mayor. In 1993 he acquired French citizenship and for the past 18 years he has been at the heart of political life in the tiny Normandy village of Saint Ceneri le Gerei.
Throughout that time, he has tried to foster friendship and understanding between France and Britain and he feels the recent rise of anti-European feeling in his former home country is not making his job easy.
"I have discussions with French friends and they say, 'There you go. Britain's at it again'. And then I become a Brit again. They don't see me as a Frenchman," he told AFP.
Tatham added that he was, "upset and shocked," by Cameron's referendum announcement.
"I certainly wasn't expecting it and I don't think the UK has played the role I'd have liked it to have played. I think that Britain would suffer from leaving the European Union," he said.
"I feel that Britain is blackmailing the rest of the European Union. I wonder if they really want to leave. It's not in the greatest of shapes but if we're going to forge a European Union we've got to take the good with the bad."
The French mayor also sought to reassure any compatriots thinking of taking the plunge and opting for French nationality.
"When you take out French nationality, you don't lose your British nationality. You can't lose your British nationality unless you do something like commit high treason. So there's nothing to lose," he explained.
British national Michael Dodds is the director of Tourisme Bretagne. It's his job to try to encourage people to visit the western French region of Brittany, famed for its rugged coastlines, mysterious standing stones and proud Celtic culture. He feels Cameron's statement was a disaster.
"You can imagine that for someone trying to promote Anglo-French relations through tourism, this kind of announcement doesn't help at all," he said.
"Up until now I've never felt the desire or the need to adopt French nationality but perhaps now is the time to think about it," he added.
Dodds has a French wife and young children so, like Tatham and Bucquet, feels personally affected by the UK government's eurosceptic attitude. But he also argues that Britain pulling out of the EU would have a very concrete effect on Franco-British projects he is trying to promote.
"We're working on a scheme with partners in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall to create a network of cycle trails that would link up the southwest of England with Normandy and Brittany. It's a nine-million-euro project funded by the EU that simply wouldn't exist if the UK wasn't a member," he said.