In Dordogne idyll, Brits unimpressed with Brexit talks

By Richard Lough
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Books are displayed on a shelf in a bookstore in Eymet

Paperback books are displayed on a shelf in a bookstore in Eymet, France, November 11, 2017. Britons in France are waiting anxiously for EU leaders to decide whether or not to approve a Brexit deal at a December 14-15 summit in Brussels. Picture taken November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By Richard Lough

EYMET, France (Reuters) - Britain's prime minister may be hailing "a new sense of optimism" in Brexit talks. But David and Iona Stent, who sold their English home three years ago to start anew in the sun-kissed vineyards of France's Dordogne, are having none of it.

The couple are frustrated as London inches ahead in its divorce with the European Union, and say Friday's interim deal offers them scant reassurance for the future of their "Franglais Foods" market stall business.

Under the agreement, the 1.2 million Britons with permanent residence in EU states will be allowed to stay and receive the same treatment over social security, healthcare and employment as the 3 million Europeans living in Britain.

But the deal was only sealed with a handshake.

"It is just words from politicians. It gives me no confidence at all," said Iona, who sells fudge, Scottish cakes and quiches in the bastide village of Eymet and surrounding areas.

The couple are determined to stay in France. If they can, they will apply for French citizenship, but they are not sure if they will be eligible.

Eymet's warm climate, good wine and cheap, tumbledown farmhouses have been a magnet for British expatriates since the 1970s. The village boasts an English pub, tea room and a grocery store offering Marmite, Heinz Baked Beans and custard powder. There is even a cricket club.

While Friday's deal outlined the terms of Britain's separation from the EU, pitfalls lie ahead. Tough discussions over Britain's trade relationship with the bloc could widen differences within Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet over how Britain should look after it leaves.

"We don't know what situation we'll find ourselves in," said Iona. "We joke about turning up at the 'Jungle' (migrant camp) in Calais. We've got this idea they're going to reinstate it for all the Brits."

On the far side of the medieval village's central Place Gambetta, clipped English accents fill 'Le Treize' cafe as Stephen and Liz Chorlton ponder their pension income.

Britain's pound has fallen 13 percent against the euro since the vote to leave the EU, eroding UK-based earnings, pensions and investment incomes.

"We've got nothing left in the UK other than a few savings," said Stephen, 60, who quit his job in Manchester in 2010 after the finiancial crisis hit the shop-fitting industry and moved to southwestern France.

Sterling's slump means he and his wife now juggle drawing down their pound-denominated private pensions and tapping the income they earn from a French investment fund.

"I had a conversation with my financial adviser last week. He reckons I could live until I am in my 90s and says if I keep drawing out at the level I'm allowed, my spending will be unsustainable," said Liz.


There are about 300 Britons among Eymet's 2,600-strong population, a number which swells in the summer.

Many lament the divisive nature of the Brexit debate in Britain. Others fume at former prime minister David Cameron's decision to hold the vote in the first place and what they see and the incoherence of his successor's negotiating strategy.

"None of us got the vote. It's like being shat on from a great height and we have no say about it," said pensioner Andrew Cardle as carafes of wine lubricated a game of indoor-skittles between The Sinners and Eymet Cricket Club.

For all the uncertainty, few Britons in Eymet believe they will be thrown out. "The influx of foreigners here pulled Eymet back from the dead," said Keith Mcbride, a 54-year-old former City broker with a broad Essex accent and two golden labradors.

"Come Brexit, no one knows what the rules will be," he said. "But they're not going to backtrack and say people who are in the system are now out of the system, because we pay contributions."

Nonetheless, some are contemplating an insurance policy: French nationality.

"If I have to I'll take (French) citizenship. Piece of cake, if I can pass that bloody language exam," said David Horlock, who runs a small plastering business.

In a sign some in Britain are still considering a move to France before Brexit hits, Terrie Simpson, whose Agence Eleonor estate agency has seen revenues rise over the past two years, said there was still demand from Britons.

"We've had people come in and say we're so fed up with Brexit that we want to buy a house in France," said Simpson, whose office front door carries a sticker in the colours of the EU flag reading: "Bollox to Brexit".

"It might sound arrogant to say they need the English here, but they do. They spend their money in the restaurants, their money is in the banks and young families pay taxes and send their children to the school," said Simpson.

Many locals do fret that the shutters will come down on Eymet's cafes and local businesses if Brexit leads to an exodus of Britons.

"If the are no English here, we're screwed!" said cheesemonger Philippe Barbe. "They're a big part of our local economy."

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)