Over the years, more than 14,000 Brits have made a home for themselves in this corner of France, and their presence is everywhere. They’ve rehabbed old granite houses, opened small shops and become active in chess clubs and other community organizations. In this village, expatriate David Neal runs the Brittany Pub, where an order of fish and chips can momentarily transport you over the English Channel.
But British citizens 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 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 Brits in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In 11 of the 27 member countries, British citizens 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.
Of the dozens of British expatriates in Brittany who spoke with The Washington Post, most said they wished to stay in France as long as they could. Many had been in touch with French authorities to obtain a permanent residency card.
Christina Jones, 71, said it took six weeks for her and her husband to get their “cartes de séjour” and that they are thinking of applying for French citizenship.
“We have a good life here,” she said. Though she noted that the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum was difficult for many expats. “Our family doctor, six months after the referendum, told me dozens of Brits were going to her with depression.”
With just days before Britain could crash out, the stress of Brexit has intensified.
Some Brits told The Post they had been waiting for months to get an answer from French authorities about their residency applications, while others were told they should wait to start the process only if Britain leaves without a deal. The French prefecture of Quimper, in charge of processing applications for the Huelgoat area, declined to comment for this story.
Another point of concern: the decreased value of the British pound. Since June 2016, the British currency has dropped relative to the euro. One 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. If the pound sinks even more after Brexit, some residents fear they could fall below the French poverty line.
Sylvie Mayer, 60, a real estate agent in Huelgoat, said she has already felt the Brexit effect, with fewer Brits looking to buy homes in Brittany. Before the summer of 2016, 80 percent of her clients were British. Now, only half are.
Maud Camus, 33, works at the Huelgoat cafe La Paillotte, where she said about 40 percent 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.”