xi's moments

Brexit makes Britons embrace their foreign roots

By Wang Mingjie in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-07 03:01

Thousands apply for other European passports

Growing uncertainty over the impact of the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union, scheduled for the end of this month, has led to a huge rise in British citizens seeking passports for other EU countries – most particularly, from Ireland.

Portia McDowell is one such applicant. The 21-year-old was born in England but has grandparents from Northern Ireland. She recently applied for an Irish passport in an attempt to improve her future employment prospects and retain the freedom of movement within the bloc that is currently available to EU citizens, but which British citizens are set to lose.

"I wanted to apply for one, mainly due to job opportunities in a few years' time," said McDowell, who is due to graduate this summer. "I think for an employer, someone looks more employable if they have more access to EU.

"With the ongoing Brexit process, the additional passport is kind of a security for the future. If I do choose to live in the EU, it's much easier compared to if I had carried on having a British passport."

Emma – not her real name as she prefers to stay anonymous – who is in her mid-20s and has an Irish mother, echoed McDowell's view. She sent off her Irish passport application on the day after the Brexit vote in June 2016.

She had previously thought about getting an Irish passport, but did not see the reason for it. "There was nothing I could access with one that I couldn't with a British one. It was just an extra expense," she explained. The standard 10-year Irish passport costs 71 pounds ($93) and it takes around six to eight weeks to process in the UK.

However, when the referendum result was announced, Emma then decided to apply for one so she could keep the benefit and flexibility to move freely within the EU.

"This is not so much a security but a freedom," Emma said. "I would like to live and work abroad within the EU at some point, so I hope it will give me some ease to do that. I don't think those options would have been completely taken away without the passport but I do think it will make it easier."

McDowell and Emma are just two of hundreds of thousands Britons with Irish parents or grandparents who have sought Irish passports since UK's decision to leave the EU.

A total of 6 million British people are eligible for an Irish passport, and in Northern Ireland, everyone is entitled to apply for both British and Irish citizenship.

According to Ireland's Foreign Office, 2018 saw a record number of Irish passport applications from the UK, with 98,544 made from Great Britain and 84,855 from Northern Ireland, representing an increase of 22 percent and 2 percent respectively compared to 2017.

Last year, applications from Great Britain were more than double the amount made before the UK voted to leave the EU. Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, the growth rates for Irish passport applications had remained largely stationary for at least four years.

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: "The Passport Service has continued to experience growth in the volume of applications received year on year…the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU has had an impact."

To a certain extent, the current surge in applications reflects the impact of increased numbers of Irish people moving to Britain over the past decade, as well as UK citizens exercising their right to apply for an Irish passport, said Coveney, adding that it is too early to say what the impact of the growing number of applications might be.

As a result of the surge in applications, the Irish Passport Service has commissioned research to try and better understand its implications. The study is focusing on the potential contribution applications from Northern Ireland and Great Britain would make to overall demand, which the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs said will assist the Irish Passport Service in formulating plans on resource requirements for the future.

A total number of 822,581 passports were issued by the Irish government in 2018. During peak periods, more than 6,500 applications were submitted in a single day.

Despite the strong interests in Irish travel documents, Coveney said: "There is no cap on the number of passports that the Department issues. As long as the person in question is an Irish citizen, they are entitled to apply for a passport, irrespective of the volume of applications being received."

The Irish passport is highly regarded internationally. In 2018, it was ranked fifthhighest in the Henley Passport Index, because of the number of countries Irish passport holders can travel to visa-free.

But the Irish passport is not the only travel document that British citizen are eyeing incase of a no-deal Brexit. Other European travel documents are also in demand.

Sweden, an EU member state which hosts approximately 20,000 British citizens without Swedish passport, received a record number of 1,859 citizenship applications from Britons, according to figures from Statistics Sweden.

This was up from 1,616 in 2016 and a huge leap from the years prior to the Brexit vote. Only 511 Britons applied for Swedish citizenship in 2015, while the previous year the number was just 491.

The same trend is occurring in France too.The country's Interior Ministry said the number of British nationals applying for French citizenship has increased nearly tenfold in three years.

According to the ministry, 386 Britons applied for French citizenship in 2015, soaring to 1,363 in 2016 and to 3,173 in 2017. Figures for 2018 are not yet available.

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