Brexit causing grief to French villagers as well as Brit expats

Published:  1 Dec at 6 PM
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Brexit is causing grief to the French residents of Alet les Bains, a tiny village in the south of France.

The Alet les Bains British expat community may only be 60-strong out of 440 residents, but locals love the way they’ve looked after and renovated their homes, made friends with the locals and integrated into the tiny community. As Brexit looms even larger, villagers are afraid their English friends will be forced to return to the UK, leaving the place they’ve learned to love as much as do its French inhabitants.

It has to be admitted that France isn’t exactly renowned for its Anglophile stance but, here in the hills, there’s no feeling of resentment or dislike in the community. A former local postman, now retired, told reporters the British expats brought ‘brotherhood’ to his village, as seen every December and January with the vastly increased numbers of Christmas and New Year greetings cards he used to deliver. The village itself lied in the Aude region, one of the poorest regions in France with almost no industry to support its population.

Attracted by Alet’s stunning scenery, peaceful lifestyle and cheap property prices, UK retirees began trickling into the area as early as the 1980’s, with the trickle becoming a flood once Ryanair opened up its routes from Manchester and London to the Carcassonne. Formerly a medieval spa town, the village still has its ninth century abbey as well as traditional homes in winding streets, charming all who came and encouraging them to blend in with the village’s culture. Many decided on Alet as it was rare to hear a British accent, preferring to become a part of the French landscape, and newcomers began renovating their run-down properties, taking into account the harmony of the village and its long-held traditions. One quaint street even became known as the Rue des Anglais.

According to the local mayor, British expats have ‘breathed new life’ into the quaint old place. Very few French residents take exception to the influx of Brits, although some in the building trade say they’re being undercut by foreigners who prefer do-it-yourself to using a local tradesman. Tragically, Brexit is already harming the village, with a few retirees having financial problems and reluctantly deciding to return to the UK, a move some say they’ll bitterly regret. The fall in sterling has also affected the numbers of British buyers looking for retirement homes in the region.

Beyond the real estate market, Brexit’s kiss of death could ruin the community life of havens such as Alet as expat communities dwindle and finally give up on charity work and local events. Businesses serving the expat community will suffer from a lack of customers and the empty homes will begin to decay, taking their memories of better times with them.
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