After hearing how France wants to treat us after Brexit, I think it might be the end of my love affair with the country

I voted Remain, but this snotty treatment from the country on the other side of the Channel has got my blood boiling. Enough is enough!

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 19 October 2018 17:40
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Emmanuel Macron makes error in speech implying British visitors will need visas to enter France

France has said that if we leave the EU without an agreement, the British will be treated as “third country” citizens, according to reports this week. Although Macron has publicly tried to reassure people that that won’t happen, a draft law has been tabled in the French parliament that will let the government set new rules for UK citizens travelling to France after Brexit – so why should we believe him?

If we do end up treated as “third country” citizens, as that draft law suggests, then we’ll go to the back of the queue on every score. Traffic will be gridlocked with the M20 turned into a giant lorry park and even our pets could be denied free travel, submitted to customs checks and reams of documentation.

For centuries, the French have not only been our closest neighbours, but also our bitter rivals. British membership of the EU seemed to signal a cosier relationship – but now it seems we are to be cast aside, like a lover who no longer appeals, punished severely for our stroppy attitude.

The legislation to downgrade our status could mean UK citizens in France lose their rights to certain jobs and would have to apply for “carte de sejour” permits to remain in the country, with limited access to healthcare and welfare.

The French minister for European Affairs has denied that British workers whose papers were not in order would be designated “illegal aliens”. She says the new laws were to prevent that situation happening – but who do we believe?

The French seem determined to make our lives as unpleasant as possible: according to the head of HM Revenue and Customs, France is refusing to help UK Border officials make contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. He has no clue how their customs officials will behave after March, and what new systems will be in place – and his counterparts are refusing to enlighten him.

Finally, Michael Gove has told travellers thinking of taking pets abroad after Brexit to check with a vet in November “to be absolutely certain”. It seems to imply that in the event of no deal, our cats and dogs will be stateless, third-class pets in this unfriendly post-Brexit environment of strictly enforced borders, new rules and regulations.

Emmanuel Macron calls Brexit campaign leaders 'liars', in extraordinary attack

Contrast Emmanuel Macron’s hostile attitude with Theresa May’s stated intention to allow EU citizens already working and living in the UK the right to remain. The head of the EU has banned member states from talking to the UK about their contingency plans in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and Macron is patently sticking to the new directives. The UK is like a naughty pupil being punished in new ways every single week, as we inch painstakingly towards some sort of EU exit. I voted Remain, but this snotty treatment from the country on the other side of the Channel has got my blood boiling. Enough is enough!

I grew up passionately in love with everything French. My godmother made me speak the language every Saturday, when we visited a French patisserie in west London, and read Paris Match over our croissants. In the afternoon we enjoyed New Wave movies in the old cinema on Notting Hill Gate. I saw Genet’s Le Balcon on the stage in French and soon passed my GCSE.

My first real boyfriend was Hugo, a student at the posh Ecole Militaire. He wanted to be a bomber pilot in the French air force. He sent me a Breton-striped top as a present. Hugo sported a little beard and was incredibly wet. Naturally my mother thought he was adorable, so I dumped him.

Since Hugo, I’ve visited France more often than any other country, decorating my first flat with bargains from the flea markets in Paris. I’ve driven the country from top to bottom, walked pilgrim paths around Cahors, traversed rocky gorges in Cevennes picking wild berries. I’ve spent summers in the south, swimming off the rocks near St Tropez and eating delicious truffles.

Now, with Macron at the helm, my lifelong love affair with France has all the hallmarks of a relationship that’s on the skids. Perhaps the time has come to edit France out of my life. What would I truly miss? Sure, the unfriendly taxi drivers and waiters in Paris seemed to soften up in recent years. There was less snottiness. But there is still nowhere to eat on Sunday evenings in the countryside, no shops open Sundays after 12 (always a nightmare when you arrive late the night before to a rental house) or on Mondays.

Please remember the ghastly food in swanky restaurants, where vegetables rarely feature, even though the gorgeous farmers’ market down the road is brimming with huge tomatoes, frisee lettuce, beans and chicory, and every run-down cottage has a well-tended vegetable patch. I’ve come to the conclusion that posh French people think eating vegetables in public is common.

I loathe the rich sauces swirled on funny-shaped plates, and the bizarre décor favoured by fashionable rural restaurants. Once, I went for lunch to an establishment where a huge metallic unicorn was the focal point of the room and I (the only diner) sat in an bright orange wicker chair with a peacock back.

On the plus side, France has wonderful grand architecture and imposing chateaux, ravishing scenery (apart from the grim, featureless north), and miles and miles of empty dense forests to wander in solitude. Nevertheless, my 60-year love affair has come to an end. I don’t want to be a third-class visitor, so I shall take my custom elsewhere.

This could be the start of a new process – as we get older, it could be time to edit all sort of destinations out of our lives and opt for experiences that are fresh and rewarding. Places where we are welcome. Au revoir, Monsieur Macron.

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