Leading Tory Brexiteer Lord Lawson has been attacked as a “hypocrite” after reportedly applying for a French residency permit.
The former Chancellor came under fire when he revealed he had applied for a ‘carte de sejour’, a document that would guarantee his permanent rights in the country after Brexit.
As chairman of Vote Leave, Lawson was one of the most senior Conservative grandees to lead the campaign for the UK to quit the EU in the 2016 referendum.
But he has faced criticism as he lives in an 18th century country house in Gers, south west France.
In an interview with local English language news website ConnexionFrance, Lawson said he just “started” the paperwork needed to apply for a carte de sejour.
“I’ve just started and don’t know how it will work out but am not particularly worried. It comes under the category of tiresome rather than serious. I understand some people are worried about healthcare cover and hope it will be sorted out.
“Speaking as a Brit in France – and I’m not applying for French nationality – I am not worried.”
France’s Interior Ministry has advised that Britons in France should apply for carte de sejour early to reduce any complications from the avalanche of applications expected after the UK quits the EU formally in March 2019.
Just 15,000 out of an estimated 150,000 Brits living in France currently hold the card, which guarantees permanent residency rights under EU law.
Lawson, who flies into the UK to vote in the Lords and take part in debates, has long defended his decision to make France his main home.
Like many Brexiteers, he insists that there is a big difference between being pro-European and being pro-EU.
At the height of the referendum campaign in 2016, he declared: “I love Europe! That’s why I live in France.”
His latest remarks prompted a backlash from pro-EU campaigners Best for Britain, as well as other British expats who live in France.
Paul Butters, of Best for Britain, said: “The former Chancellor looks like a hypocrite.
“The idea that the Chairman of Vote Leave has applied for his residency card in France takes the biscuit.
“It seemed to Lawson that no cost was not worth paying to leave. But with this news, it seems the cost will be paid by others while the former Chancellor suns himself in his luxury home in France.
“Lawson already did his best to ruin Britain for the last generation, and now he wants to do it for the next.”
In response to the criticism, Lord Lawson hit back with a statement to HuffPost UK: “It is well known that I live in France and have done so for many years and have referred to this in the House of Lords and elsewhere.
“It was the French authorities who told me that I should apply for a carte de sejour. Nothing else has changed.”
But pro-EU British expats were swift to seize on the latest row.
Debra Archer, of the ‘Remain in France Together’ anti-Brexit group told another English expat website TheLocal of her irritation.
“He lives in France and benefits from the EU and yet he advocated for the UK to leave it.
“He assures us there is no reason to worry and we will be able to continue life as before - and yet he is applying for a carte de séjour to make sure his residence here is documented before the UK leaves.
“Does this mean he expects the UK to crash out with no deal and no citizens’ rights agreement or is it just that he feels insecure along with the rest of us and would rather have an EU document to prove his rights than rely on the UK government to secure them?”
One Twitter commenter even suggested Lawson should have his application turned down because of his role leading the Brexit campaign.
The Remain in France Together group’s Facebook page included similar thoughts from one commenter.
“I hope his application gets put to the bottom of the pile or falls down the back of the stove. Perhaps we should all write to the Préfecture in Auch, pointing out that as the Vote Leave chairman, the man is responsible for destroying the lives of thousands of British migrants in France.”
HuffPost UK has contacted Lord Lawson’s office for comment.