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Jolted Into Action by Brexit, French Londoners Flock to Vote

Jolted Into Action by Brexit, French Londoners Flock to Vote
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In the home stretch of a tight race, French Londoners are leaving nothing to chance.

Three days before the first round of voting for their next president, a line snakes around a block in South Kensington, one of the most expensive and iconic neighborhoods in the city that also happens to be the epicenter of the French community – home to its consulate, a school and various bistros and cafes that cater to the 300,000 French expats living in the U.K.

Only 100,000 French citizens are registered to vote in the U.K. – not enough to make a difference – but after front-row seats to Brexit they’re eager to at least have a say in a galvanizing election that has had more twists than a film noir. Four presidential hopefuls are running neck and neck, and two of them want to pull France out of the European Union.

Under the billowing tricolor, Marie Lepage, 38, says she’s firmly against National Front’s Marine Le Pen but feels lukewarm about the alternatives, such as centrist Emmanuel Macron or Republican Francois Fillon.

“I can understand why some people feel really angry and want the establishment thrown out and replaced by new blood, but there’s no new blood, and certainly not Le Pen” or Jean-Luc Melenchon, the Communist-backed candidate.

“I feel lost,” she said, adding that in the end, without particular enthusiasm, she may throw her lot in with Macron. Lepage is part of the long queue to nominate someone else to vote in their stead on April 23.

Maude Metz, a 23-year-old Parisian, is also going with Macron because he’s “the only reasonable person left.” Running as an independent, Macron held a rally in London during a visit in November to see Prime Minister Theresa May. For many, it seems that a vote for him is more of a vote against the anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric of Le Pen.

“I think that a victory of Marine Le Pen is a real possibility, so I’m terrified,” said Metz via phone. “I think that in a sense she has won already, because she has imposed her views and her ideas on French politics.” However, it would be a mistake to assume that most of the French living across the English channel are on the same wavelength.

It was that kind of thinking that led pundits and pollsters to misjudge the mood and say Brexit wouldn’t happen or that Donald Trump could not win the U.S. election. That is a lesson that some French voters have taken to heart.

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