France's British expats grapple with Brexit 'shock'

 Real estate agent Terrie Simpson poses outside her estate agency dedicated to British buyers, on June 16, 2016.
Real estate agent Terrie Simpson poses outside her estate agency dedicated to British buyers, on June 16, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

EYMET, France (AFP) - British expatriates living in a sunny corner of France they have dubbed "Dordogneshire" grappled Friday with Britain's shock vote to leave the European Union.

"It was a huge shock," said estate agent Terrie Simpson. "Frankly, I never thought they would vote to leave".

"People are afraid. The pound is dropping," she said.

"It's going to be difficult for people who want to buy" property in France.

Around 4.9 million British nationals live outside the UK, with about 1.35 million in Europe, many of them in Spain or France.

Many retirees in Dordogne fear the effects on their pensions, recalling the financial crisis of 2008 when many Britons in the region sold their homes and shipped out.

Healthcare is another concern as British expats currently benefit from the French system under a bilateral convention between London and Paris.

Dordogne has long been a magnet for British pensioners, and the 13th-century bastide town of Eymet is host to some 200 families from across the Channel.

Overall, between 6,000 and 8,000 Britons live in the area.

Publican Rupert Bache said he was upset about the "nationalist and mean-spirited side" aspect of the Brexit debate and feared that other countries could follow suit in "an atmosphere like we saw in 1933".

But while many said they were opposed to Brexit, they were quick to acknowledge the EU's shortcomings.

"Frankly, we all agree the European institution needs to be shaken up," Bache said.

Seventy-year-old Scotsman Ken Napier, who has lived in the area for 18 years, said: "I like Europe a lot for the single market and its positive effect on the economy, but I don't like the rules imposed by Brussels to the detriment of British law."

The Royal Navy veteran regretted that he could not vote in Thursday's referendum because he has lived abroad more than 15 years.

Napier said he would have voted "Leave" - unlike his wife, who is also Scottish.