By most accounts Nigel Farage's anti-European UK Independence Party will be an influential player, maybe even a new coalition partner for a Conservative Party without David Cameron, after the next general election. Farage, very much the man of the moment in British politics, has refused outright any close collaboration with the Conservatives as long as Cameron holds the reins. His natural Tory ally would be Boris Johnson, a Eurosceptic who, for all his boyish charm and popular appeal, has yet to prove his suitability for high office.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage, a former commodities trader, is not prepared to wait four years for an EU referendum. Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter
The PM wants to try negotiating Britain's EU membership conditions before putting an in-or-out question to the country but many Tory backbenchers and Ukip clearly want out – or at least a pre-election referendum. And current popular opinion indicates the public would likely vote to quit the EU.
An EU withdrawal for British expats here could be severe. France is likely to take a vindictive attitude so life for les rosbif residents would be more of a hassle.
In practical terms, look back at the first issues of this magazine. At that time, Britons needed a Titre de séjour and queued for hours (or even days) at the Prefecture alongside an undisciplined mob of North African immigrants seeking papers. British driving licences were not recognised for residents so Britons had to switch to a French licence within a year or take the French test. Professional qualifications were not mutually recognised so many professions were off limits and a working permit was not as easily granted.
More importantly, the French Sécu would not automatically cover either British visitors to France under the EHIC system or British retirees under EU agreements on mutual healthcare benefits. The principal Riviera Reporter advertisers of 25 years ago were healthcare insurers offering obligatory cover to expats who could only live here if they could prove they were solvent and had private comprehensive health insurance. Try getting that for an affordable price if you're over 65 and British.
What would happen to expats if Britain were to leave the EU but keep some economic and a few other ties? This half-in half-out solution is what Switzerland and Norway have now. Unless they are working legally in France, resident Swiss and Norwegian citizens need private medical insurance. Their driving licences are not valid in France and they must regularly queue for that tentative Titre de séjour at the Prefecture along with other non-Europeans.
Do you still hope Britain leaves the EU?
The lowdown on the high street
The British high street is changing forever. Faced with ruthless competition from online sales, the big five supermarkets, chain stores and a multitude of tax-favoured charity shops, scores of retailers can no longer survive. Last year 7300 small shops were forced to close down; towns have been left without a single fruit and veg shop, butcher or independent baker. Especially visible are premises boarded up: one in six high street shop lies empty and over 7 million square feet of retail premises needs renters. Today’s high street resembles a strip mall of betting shops, discounters, pawnbrokers, payday lenders, WHSmith, Boots, Greggs, Poundland and Costa Café.
There's a social cost to this. The butcher or baker was more than a place to buy meat or bread; it was a place for many, the elderly especially, to chat about the weather or the next village event. If Mrs Jones didn't come by for her sausages for a few days, someone would go by to be sure she was all right. There’s no community service like this at Tesco or Waitrose. Cases of pensioners discovered ill or dying alone in their homes have been increasing in direct proportion to the closure of local businesses.
As Cary Cooper, a psychologist at Lancaster University told the BBC: "Seeing empty shops, seeing the kinds of shops that are now on the high street, doesn't encourage communities or families."
Freehold publicans are ever more rare as big breweries buy up the properties and impose their own brands at their own price on struggling leasehold landlords. Across the UK every week an average of 26 small pubs close their doors permanently as these traditional hubs of English village life are converted to private homes or Asian restaurants.
The soul of Britain is shutting down. It’s one thing to read about it while sipping your cappuccino, it’s another to see if first hand.
Can’t we just do like the French?
Some right-wing Frenchmen opine that radical Islamists will eventually take over France through the pregnant bellies of Muslim women. It's far more likely that the UK would be conquered first, if that were true. A more racially and religiously diverse nation than France, Britain is already well into an upturn in British-born Muslims. The last ONS census indicated that Islam is the nation's third religious belief after Christianity and "None", but it is also the fastest growing faith in Britain. Already, over half of Londoners define themselves as non-white or non-Christian and often both.
Whether they are immigrants or British born, most Muslims stay on for a comfortable life in one of Europe's most tolerant nations. They usually work and study harder than the more slothful indigenous young Britons and they tend to integrate well. Inevitably, however, there is also an extremist fringe who find Britain too unacceptable to adapt to, but too generous to leave. Abu Qatada, who has breached bail conditions of a previous conviction for immigration law, is one of these.
For the past eight years successive British governments have tried to deport this preacher of hate. Abu Qatada has mounted a successful legal challenge against every threat of extradition to Jordan where he has been sentenced to life imprisonment on terrorism convictions. The right-wing British press wrongly lays the blame at the door of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and its legislation against deportation to a country suspected of using torture to extract evidence. France and other European countries have no such qualms about ridding themselves of radical foreign elements without contravening the ECHR.
The reason is simple. EU law does not keep advocates of terror like Abu Qatada in Britain but rather British law, under which free speech, however hateful, is well protected and under which a foreign suspect can remain in the country while his immigration appeal process is ongoing. French law has no such provision, so convicted hate crime and immigration abusers are often ousted upon their initial conviction – at times directly from the courtroom to the airport in a police van.
Home Secretary Theresa May would like to do the same but Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SAIC) isn't having it. May and her team are now drafting new deportation legislation that even Labour benches are likely to support. In March she also signed a fair trial guarantee treaty with Jordan and now, finally, Abu Qatada has agreed to voluntary deportation if the treaty is ratified.
Some speculate that this is yet another of his legal ploys but isn't this a clear case when it would be easier to do things the French way?