The disproportionate impact of Brexit on British women and those in poor health living in France is revealed in new research from Goldsmiths, University of London.
Dr Michaela Benson’s interviews with more than 100 of the 150,000 British residents based in the country offer new insight into how Brexit is impacting British residents overseas.
The themes of uncertainty, insecurity and instability and the unevenness of the Brexit experience run through the study, as British citizens in France find themselves judged on their right to be there for the first time.
While France hosts the second largest population, after Spain, of British citizens, their diverse voices have been little heard in the wake of the referendum, a report published today in the journal Sociology argues.
Since June 2017, Dr Benson has interviewed 105 individuals, couples and families living in Toulouse and the Lot, a rural, inland, area.
When considering a civil partnership with her Irish partner one interviewee described how they were referred to by the local mayor’s office as “one European, one foreigner”. With her status now judged as foreign she was refused privileged rights that, in law, her EU citizenship still permits.
Continued access to healthcare was also paramount for several interviewees, particularly those managing chronic conditions, whose lives are threatened by some as-yet unknowable outcomes of Brexit.
Dr Benson said: “It’s very rare for the most vulnerable among the British population living in France to find their way into scholarly analyses. They’re dispersed across rural areas and have the least resources so they’re hardest to reach.
“I met Pam, who at 70 is a widow living off a meagre UK state pension, working to make ends meet, with no capital to fall back on. Her house is run-down and she cannot afford to go back to Britain to visit her family, nor would she have any quality of life in Britain if she returned. It became clear she did not have the luxury of dwelling on the possible routes she might take to secure her future – she focused on living from one day to the next.”
A large number of those interviewed over the course of two years had decided to apply for French citizenship and yet for many the moral and symbolic construction of French citizenship meant that despite becoming secure legal, citizens, they do not believe they will ever feel French. Others had no intention of applying due to associated costs or an inability to fulfil income requirements or language capability.
Dr Benson said: “Brexit reveals fault lines within this British population, creating a process of classification – that we call ‘bordering’ – which singles out the ‘undeserving’ or ‘undesirable’ poor as unworthy of the rights of a ‘good citizen’ irrespective of their legal status as a citizen or migrant.
“Before the referendum, British citizens were rarely scrutinised or questioned on their right to live in France. This is a new experience for them, while bordering is a familiar experience for people of colour living in the EU and those seeking entry into ‘Fortress Europe’.
“Only time will tell who falls between the gaps when existing legislation is enforced and new legislation brought in. What is clear is that in the process some British citizens living in France will be recast as ‘deserving’ and deemed of value, while others will be cast aside. The evidence from France suggests that the impacts of Brexit will be uneven with it both exacerbating existing social inequalities and making other people newly vulnerable.”
Brexit and the Classed Politics of Bordering: The British in France and European Belongings by Michaela Benson was published in Sociology on Friday 6 December 2019.