The concerns of British and EU citizens as the date for leaving the EU draws near
Since the UK voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016, many British citizens have been treated roughly by continental immigration officers, warning them that they will soon be having difficulty in entering continental Europe. The problem of having to apply for visas, and queuing up at an immigration points in Europe for entry purposes, has speeded up the need for British citizens, particularly those who travel to Europe on a frequent basis, to gain citizenship of an EU state. Those who have Irish parental or grand parental connections for example, and those British citizens living abroad are now doing what they can to gain a further citizenship to guarantee their free movement rights throughout Europe after Brexit in the event of Visa restrictions for British citizens entering the EU.
There has been a rush by British citizens, particularly those who travel on a frequent basis to Europe for business, to obtain Irish nationality due to parental or grand parental connections. The Irish Republic is of course part of the EU, unlike Northern Ireland which remains part of the UK. By the same token there has been a rush by EU citizens, still desirous to remain in the UK, to obtain British citizenship.
Who can apply for an Irish passport?
Those with at least on Irish parent or grandparent are entitled to apply for an Irish passport. Of course, there has to be irrefutable proof of such parental or grand parental connections. Birth certificates of parent(s) or grandparent (s) born in the Irish Republic, together with the birth certificate of the individual applicant and their parents, or grandparents, the marriage certificate of their Irish parents or grandparents, are of course crucial documents in the process of such application.
The Irish Embassy in London has received 44,900 applications from January to June of this year and in total 80,752 persons had applied last year, up from 46,000 in 2015.The number of applications in 2016 was 63500, but more than 150,000 have applied since the referendum.
The provisions of Irish nationality law
Irish nationality law is contained in the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts 1956 -2004 and in the relevant provisions of the Irish constitution. A person may be an Irish citizen through birth, descent, marriage to an Irish citizen or through naturalisation.
Does Northern Irish per se give entitlement to Irish nationality?
Being born in Northern Irish per se is no entitlement to Irish citizenship, unless at least one parent or an Irish born grandparent was born an Irish citizen at the time of an applicant’s birth. Neither can Irish citizenship be claimed on the basis of extended previous ancestry that is ancestors other than parents or grandparents.
So, for Britain’s who travel frequently to Europe for business, it is logical (if they can prove appropriate parental or grand parental connections to the Irish Republic), to apply for Irish citizenship. Once Irish citizenship has been obtained it can be passed down by way of descent. They will then be able to travel freely throughout the EU after Brexit.
What about the situation with EU migrants in the UK?
By the same token there are now many EU migrants living and working in the UK uncertain as to their position, and hence whereas before the 2016 referendum, there was no rush by them to obtain British citizenship, now there appears to be such concern. The number of EU migrants seeking British citizenship has risen by 47% to 42,000 in the year to June of this year.
Settled and pre-settled status agreement
EU migrants who have been in the UK for five years by the end of 2020 can apply for settled status (as a result of Brexit) up to the end of June 2021, which will allow them to live and work in Britain indefinitely. After settled status they can apply for naturalisation as British citizens
On 8 December 2017, the British government reached an agreement with the EU which gives some more clarity about the legal status of EU citizens following Brexit. A draft Treaty followed on 19th March of this year which confirms that the agreement covers EU citizens who already live in the UK and arrived here before 31 December 2020. Briefly the government statement of intent confirms as follows: –
EU citizens and their family members who, by 31 December 2020 have been continuously resident in the UK for five years will be eligible for settled status enabling them to stay indefinitely.
EU citizens and their family members who arrived by 31 December 2020 but will not yet have been continuously resident here for five years, will be eligible for pre-settled status, enabling them to stay until they have reached the five-year threshold. They can then also apply for settled status.
EU citizens and their family members with settled status or pre-settled status would have the same access as they currently do to healthcare, pensions and other benefits in the UK.
Close family members, spouse, civil partner, durable partner, dependent child or grandchild, and dependent parent or grandparent, living overseas will still be able to join an EU citizen resident here after the end of the implementation period, where the relationship existed on 31 December 2020 and continues to exist when the person wishes to come to the UK. Future children are also protected.
EU citizens have to make an application for protection?
It should be emphasised that there are an approximate 3.5 million EU citizens living in Britain, who will not be protected unless they make an application for settled status to the Home Office. Contrary to many of today’s press reports, there is nothing automatic about it. Failing to apply will mean that they could end up with no legal rights to live and work in the UK. The Windrush generation is testimony to the fact that being undocumented, or thought to be undocumented, in a “compliant environment Britain” is no fun at all.
I end with this note, that our rudeness to European allies has not helped the negotiating process. There is always a requirement for respect in any negotiation, let alone one that effects the future of Britain outside the EU after Brexit. Relationships are influenced as a matter of human nature by who makes one feel good. Whilst our Prime Minister has been hugely courteous to her EU colleagues in all her negotiations in this divorce process, it is with great regret that her parliamentarian colleagues and ministers have not been on the same wavelength. They have not only been discourteous towards her, but have also thrown a lot of mud at the EU negotiators, making the UK at times the laughing stock of Europe with the inability to unite on a matter of such national importance. Whilst many Europeans therefore who as a result of the Brexit vote have already gone home, or are preparing to go because they no longer feel welcome here, there are also many who still appreciate British values and wish to remain here. We must make them feel welcome. They are good for Britain and for British industry and commerce.