In this corner, appearing out of nowhere in only a few months, Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to a 59% first-round victory for the Labour Party leadership was the biggest electoral mandate of any party leader in British political history.
What will this mean for expats? Less than enthusiastic about the EU, which is far too austerity-minded and market-driven for his liking, this bearded left-winger breaks ranks with most of his party by envisaging the previously unthinkable for a Labourite: Britain leaving the EU. The consequences of a possible Brexit (mostly negative) for expats in France have been outlined in previous issues and another push towards the door by the new leader of the nation’s second biggest party will do nothing to help the cause.
The mood among some expats is restless and increased numbers are covering every eventuality by applying for French nationality. Figures are imprecise but there is a visible movement towards more dual-citizenship demands by British expats, who would like to remain resident in France without the administrative hassle that non-EU residents have to face.
The tendency is even more pronounced in the UK where a Guardian survey reports a rush of dual-nationality requests from continental Europeans, who are worried about the impact of an “out” vote in Britain’s membership referendum. The hundreds of thousands of French immigrants, who were attracted to the UK by its favourable business environment, now share similar concerns as the estimated 2 million British residents on the continent – the return of working permits, non-reciprocal healthcare benefits, tighter restrictions on business and property ownership, the possibility of currency controls, increased taxation of their foreign pensions and longer queues at airport immigration.
Many European migrants to Britain grew into adulthood there and find it difficult to envisage returning to their home countries. For the most part, British businesses welcome the hard working Polish and the highly qualified engineers and medical personnel from the continent. The rise in the quality of restaurant cuisine and fashion can be also attributed to continental influence, much of it French. Leading entrepreneur, Sir James Dyson, worries that higher education students from the continent may find themselves in the same situation as non-EU nationals: “We take their money, we give them our knowledge, and then we kick them out.”
Opting for British nationality is neither cheap, quick nor straightforward and even native Britons would struggle to pass the citizenship test, which focuses on British history and culture: “When was the current voting age established? Who defeated the Vikings? What is the official report of the Parliament’s Proceedings called? When was the Victoria Cross introduced? Who is Boudicca? What are the powers of the Scottish Parliament? Can serving members of the Armed Forces stand for public office? When did civil war begin between the King Charles I and Parliament?”
These are far more difficult questions than Conservative Lord Tebbit’s infamous “Cricket Test” about which side an immigrant’s father or grandfather fought for in the Second World War. Germans would stand no chance with Tebbit but Poles, Czechs and Slovaks would find themselves on the right side of his bizarre citizenship criteria.
Corbyn has yet to formulate his feelings about western European migrants or British expats to Europe and their importance to British trade and world influence. It seems safe to presume that his Trotskyist mindset will view those of us who live abroad as the rich tax-dodging “lettuce eaters” once comically depicted in the French press.
Much is made of what Corbyn’s hold on the Labour Party might really mean but the fact remains that he is leader of a party that is very unlikely to be in government before 2020 at the earliest, by which time he may well have been ousted by insiders who consider him unelectable in a national election. So let’s not panic quite yet.
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