‘For over 40 years British and French fishermen have been working side by side. Brexit will change all that’

After feeling forced to take French nationality following the 2016 Brexit vote, Brittany-based English film maker Simon Coss and his French friend and co-director hitch a ride on a Breton fishing boat and head for Cornwall to find out why so many UK fishermen voted Leave.

'For over 40 years British and French fishermen have been working side by side. Brexit will change all that'
A still from the film Wait&See, about the impact of Brexit on the British and French fishing industries

My name’s Simon and I’m French. It was never the plan, but on June 23rd 2016, the country where I was born decided to leave the European Union. That meant I’d lose my European citizenship and with it the automatic right to live here with my wife and kids.

I didn't feel I had any other option. I had no confidence whatsoever that the UK government would look out for me. Like countless others of the million or so UK nationals who've lived elsewhere in the EU for more than 15 years, it hadn't even let me vote in the Brexit referendum. So at the end of 2017 I received my first French passport.


It felt like Brexit was trying to rip me in half. I talked a lot about it with my friend Antoine Tracou, a film-maker like me and he suggested we make a film together about the real, human links between people living on both sides of the English Channel and how Brexit could affect them.

But which film? What is it that both unites and divides the United Kingdom and Brittany? The sea of course. So we hitched a ride on a fishing boat in the port of Guilvinec in Finistère, south Brittany and headed across the English Channel to Newlyn, in Cornwall, UK.

Brittany is one of France’s major fishing regions. Boats based in ports here spend a huge amount of time catching fish in UK waters. Without this access many could go out of business. Across the Channel, UK fishermen voted massively to leave the EU, furious at European rules that allow foreign boats to catch more fish than they can in their own seas.

But, in a perfect Brexit paradox, around 80 percent of catches landed by UK boats end up on French or Spanish dinner tables.

Antoine and I chose to concentrate on the fishing communities in Gulivinec and Newlyn. Boats from both ports spend much of their time fishing in the same dangerous seas, between Cornwall and Brittany.

These are people who do the same jobs. They have the same fears, the same hopes, the same destinies. For over forty years they have been working side by side under the same shared rules. Brexit would change all that. We wanted to find out how.

We set out to meet, talk and above all listen to people on both sides of the channel. We didn't want to point fingers or judge. There seemed to be more than enough of that kind of thing going on elsewhere.

French co-director Antoine Tracou. Photo Simon Coss

So over a year in 2018, we did just that. We spent two weeks at sea and countless hours on quaysides, in cafés, fishing companies and fish markets on both sides of the channel just chatting, listening, getting to know people.

It was a hugely enriching experience and we were welcomed warmly and sincerely wherever we went. It quickly became clear to us that there's nothing more like a Breton fisherman than a Cornish fisherman.

Although fishing remains a very masculine world, we also met two deeply inspiring women during our travels – Soazig Palmer Le Gall in Guilvinec and Elizabeth Stevenson in Newlyn. Both manage fishing fleets of a dozen boats and are hugely important figures in their local economies and communities.

Our time with Dave Stevens, the burly, generous, straight-talking Cornish skipper who welcomed us aboard his trawler the Crystal Sea for eight days, helped us understand why so many UK fishermen like him voted to leave the EU. Looked at from Dave's point of view, EU rules that allow non-UK boats to catch more fish in UK waters than he can, certainly seem unfair.

Where things got more complicated was around the question of who's responsible for that state of affairs, London or Brussels?

Dave is convinced that the UK has been continually out-manoeuvred in fishing talks in Brussels by its more wily EU counterparts. Elizabeth Stevenson saw things differently. She told us fishing, which represents around 0.5 percent of the UK's GDP, has always been used as a bargaining chip by London to get concessions in other areas.

In one memorable discussion she remembered how she had once been to see a UK fisheries minister to complain about her industry's woes only to be told, “fishing is less important than biscuits and lawn-mowers.”

We also found in Newlyn that people, like Elizabeth, who have to consider where catches will be sold after they have been landed tended to be against Brexit. The EU remains by far their biggest market.

Soazig Palmer Le Gall and Dave Stevens. Photo Antoine Tracou

One of the things that Antoine and I are most proud of was that we managed to bring people from Newlyn and Guilvinec together. When we were aboard the Crystal Sea, we invited Dave to meet and talk with Soazig, the French fleet manager. He gamely agreed and at the end of 2018 he came to France for the first time in his life.

His warm, frank, respectful meeting and discussions with Soazig end the film. What struck both Antoine and I afterwards was that Soazig and Dave pretty much agreed on everything when it came to the EU’s failings. Their only real difference came over how to deal with them. To change things is it better to stay or leave?

Since the film was released, Elizabeth has also asked to get in touch with Soazig.

Our journeys back and forth across the Channel confirmed one thing to both Antoine and me. If Brexit is first and foremost a British affair, we’d be making a huge mistake if we thought it had no bearing on this side of the Channel.

Europe’s in a bad place. Not the people's Europe. I believe more strongly than ever in European unity, in the power of bringing people together. That's what allowed Dave and Soazig to find common ground.

But the European Union, with its opaque, distant and autocratic institutions must change, or it will disappear.

We need more democracy, more hope.

We need to talk.

Simon Coss. Photo: Antoine Tracou

Wait&Sea was first broadcast on French television channel France 3 Bretagne on 8 April 2019. It is 52 minutes long and was co-produced by France 3 Bretagne and Aligal Production, with support from the CNC, the region of Brittany, the Procirep and the Angoa.

Simon and Antoine are now putting on a series of screenings of the film – if you would like to arrange a screening for your local area, contact them here in the screening/projection section.


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‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK.