When Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, some Remainers wasted no time averting its ill effects. On the day after the referendum, hundreds of Britons with Irish heritage, eager to retain their right to work and travel freely in the EU, rushed to apply for a passport (enthusiasm in London was so great that the Irish embassy ran out of application forms; some reportedly reappeared on eBay, an online-auction site). Today, some three-and-a-half years later, the number of Britons rediscovering their Irish roots shows no sign of letting up. In 2019 around 50,000 were granted Irish passports, 10,000 more than in 2018 and more than eight times as many as in 2015.
For Britons seeking to keep their EU citizenship, Ireland remains the most popular choice. But it is not the only one. Between 2016 and 2018, Germany granted citizenship to 17,000 Britons, or 5,700 per year, compared with an average of just 530 in the three years before Brexit. France issued passports to 1,733 British citizens in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, up from 374 in 2015. Belgian and Dutch citizenship applications have each increased more than seven-fold since Brexit. Some countries have made efforts to hurry things along. The number of Brits seeking Swedish citizenship climbed steadily after the referendum. In 2019, after Swedish officials sped up their procedures, 4,277 were given citizenship, more than three times as many as the year before.
Applying for citizenship is easier in some places than others. Ireland has a particularly generous system. Anyone with a parent or grandparent born on the island (either the Republic or Northern Ireland) is considered an Irish citizen and is therefore eligible for a passport. Britons with Italian ancestry may claim citizenship by descent, no matter how far back their ancestral links go. Elsewhere the process can be trickier. Although many EU countries allow British people to obtain dual citizenship, others restrict the practice or ban it altogether. Britons who seek Dutch nationality, for example, may have to give up their British passports. After Britain officially exits the EU, those granted German citizenship will also have to relinquish their British passports.
In Spain, the process of gaining EU citizenship by naturalisation is particularly demanding. Only those who have been resident continuously for ten years are eligible. Even then, applicants must pass a language test and an exam about Spanish culture, history and geography. With such strict criteria, it is little wonder that in 2018, of the 300,000-odd Britons living in Spain, just 209 applied for citizenship.
This article is from our Graphic detail section.