Brexit drives Britons to seek second passports

Data shows uncertainty over leaving EU is causing surge in dual citizenship applications

Madrid: For more than two decades and through a prolonged and messy divorce, Josie Aldridge has long considered the Canary island of Lanzarote to be home. Estranged from her family back in the West Midlands of the United Kingdom, she owns her small 2-bedroom apartment and can never see herself returning to England.


“This is my home,” she told Gulf News yesterday. “But with Brexit, I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Currently, there are some 2.5 million citizens from across the European Union living in the UK, and there are another 1.5 million or so British citizens like Aldridge, who have made their homes in the EU, with some 700,000 of those living in Spain alone.

The uncertainty over Brexit has Aldridge researching an Irish grandmother she never knew, and is only familiar with through family stories.

Why? Anyone with an Irish grandparent can qualify for a passport from the Republic of Ireland, automatically wiping out any doubts about residence rights after Brexit, and allowing for free movement after the UK’s spilt from Europe takes effect on March 29 next.

“Some of my friends are event joking that the Queen is looking to see if she has an Irish grandparent?” Aldridge told Gulf News yesterday.

But Brexit is no laughing matter, and those second passports are becoming a pressing issue.

According to the latest data compiled by the British Broadcasting Corporation, there has been a surge in UK citizens acquiring the nationality of other EU countries since the Brexit referendum two years ago.

In Dublin, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs reported that more than 779,000 passports were issued in all of 2017 — with one on five of those being issued to people living in the UK.

But along with obtaining second passports by becoming “dual citizens” — most European nations allow their citizens to hold passports from other countries, more Britons are also checking out other nationality options.

The BBC says that in 2017, nearly 13,000 UK citizens obtained the nationality of one of 17 EU states other than Ireland that provided detailed information. That figures compares to 5,026 in 2016 and only 1,800 in 2015. The dramatic rise is down to Brexit and the uncertainty over residency rights.

The most frequent new nationality was German, which saw a huge jump from just 594 cases in 2015 up to 7,493 in 2017. One applicant, Paul Petty, from Bath, gained a German passport and is now a dual German/British citizen.

“I feel like Europe is pulling apart a bit at the moment,” he told the BBC. “I want to remain part of the EU.”

It took three weeks for Petty to receive his new passport. He was eligible because of his mother’s status as a Jewish refugee.

He described the process as “really easy”, as he still had his mother’s passport.

The dramatic increase is consistent across many countries. France was the second most popular nationality, jumping from 320 instances in 2015 to 1,518 last year, and then Belgium, where the increase was from 127 to 1,381.

In most cases those involved have also retained their British citizenship and so have become dual nationals.

Lucy Hales has been living in Italy for five years, having previously spent 12 years in Spain, and plans to apply for Italian passports.

“It is likely that we will move to another European country, because of my husband’s job, so having Italian citizenship would give us some certainty,” she told the BBC.

For now, Aldridge is contemplating having to get back in contact with her estranged family back home in Preston for details of that Irish grandmother — and the unease caused by Brexit.

“There’s just so much uncertainty,” she told Gulf News. “I mean, Spain or the rest of Europe just can’t kick us out, can they?”

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