A Tale of Two Passports.

You have to feel sorry for the poor souls working in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the South. Since the summer, they must have witnessed an increase in workload. And they have Brexit to thank for it.

Since the outcome of the UK’s referendum on its European Union membership, the Department has been thoroughly inundated with Irish passport applications. Yes, so steep has the increase been in citizenship requests and passport applications from concerned British citizens seeking to cling to their European citizenship, that the Department was forced to add an additional Q and A sub-section to its website: EU UK Referendum: FAQs – Citizenship, Passports & residency entitlements. Moreover, diplomatic staff in Dublin were forced to appeal for calm in the days immediately after the Brexit vote as due to unexpected demand, inundated post offices ran out of Irish passport application forms.

The addition of this subsection was an attempt to assuage fears of British citizens, an attempt to restore some calm to the chaotic mess of uncertainty the Brexit decision brought. The website reminds those seeking to apply for an Irish passport that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU will take a considerable amount of time and negotiation before any changes will be occur. The website stresses that during this period of negotiation, heralded by the triggering of Art 50, UK passport holders continue to enjoy all the rights of EU citizens, including free movement within the EU. To ensure no uncertainty (as the British government and Brexit rack up uncertainty, the Irish government attempts for clarity) the website reiterates once more with feeling that:

There is no urgent need therefore for UK passport holders (whether based in the UK or elsewhere) to look into applying for an Irish passport at this time.

That use of the bold font was of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I should add.

Why were these British citizens so desperate for an Irish passport? Simply put, dual citizenship with an EU country would enable British passport holders to retain their right to live and work across the European Union. Essentially, those seeking Irish passports are hoping to keep the benefits of their EU citizenship, whilst retaining their British citizenship (which would no longer be entwined with EU citizenship upon the conclusion of Brexit.)

For those such as myself, who live in Northern Ireland and identify as Irish, the website confirms that there shall be no changes during the negotiation period, or for the foreseeable future as to the entitlement to Irish passports ‘including for people born on the island of Ireland, and for those persons who were born outside Ireland but have Irish-born parents or grandparents.’ For any interested as to why this is: we in the North of Ireland are permitted to dual nationality, i.e. we can choose to identify as British, Irish or as both under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998, as signed by both the British and Irish governments. So, despite what people may be saying/sharing on Twitter – I’m looking at you, lady user who complained “people in NI get EU passports because they feel Irish” – we in Northern Ireland are legally permitted to identify as Irish. This is recognised by the British and Irish governments, and our own Assembly.

Now, you may think that as the summer came to a close and autumn howled into our lives – literally howled; the wind in NI is powerful – the panicked rush for Irish passports by British citizens residing in Great Britain would decline. After all, despite the fact that the British government appear uncertain as to how to proceed with the negotiations, and the Cabinet appears divided over whether to argue for a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, the average person in the street in Great Britain might not have noticed any real change in their lives. If they do not notice a startling change, their fears might have gradually subsided. They may not consider Brexit to be an issue to currently worry over. And as everyone is still a European citizens, then the rights they are entitled to as such will still apply. Consequently, passport applications cease to climb, and order is slowly restored.

Except, not quite.

Demand for Irish passports from UK residents is expected to remain high into next year. Believe it or not, in the three months after the referendum decision, applications were up by more than 17,300 compared with the same period last year. Figures show that some 21,549 people in Great Britain applied in July, August and September, compared with fewer than 11,000 in the same period last year, along with 15,747 people in Northern Ireland. British applications for Irish passports at the Irish Embassy in London doubled in August alone, to 6,710. Applications also rose in Northern Ireland by 80 percent.

Interestingly enough, there have been significant fluctuations in Irish passport applications in recent years. Demand from Great Britain earlier in 2016 was only a fraction of what it was from 2007-09. Evidently, British citizens across the Irish Sea either assumed that the Remain campaign would win, decided to wait and see what the outcome would be before applying, or simply were not aware of this apparent means of safeguarding their EU citizenship.

One anomaly in the numbers was a dip in applications in the weeks after the vote in June. Passport services have recorded significant increases in demand since then — up more than 10,500 in Great Britain, and 6,300 in Northern Ireland compared with July, August and September 2015.

Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, said that the high demand was likely to continue into 2017:

“Passport applications from Britain for the period January to September this year are up 40 per cent compared to the previous year, surging from July onwards; with demand in August 2016 being almost 120 per cent higher than the same month last year.”

In total, the South’s passport services are expecting to process an additional 100,000 applications from home and abroad this year. Hence my shoutout to the passport services staff in the introduction to this post.

Minister Flanagan also said that there was another reason for the increase in passport applications: there was also an increasing number of Irish people seeking passports to go overseas.

“Based on current trends, we estimate an overall increase in passport applications this year of between 12 and 14 per cent — or 100,000 additional applications. Next year, we project a further significant increase.”

If your daily dose of passport updates and Brexit has not been satisfied, it gets better. Oh yes, UK MPs and peers are applying for Irish passports in the hope that they can retain their EU citizenship after the UK leaves the European Union. Some members of the House of Lords are reported to have applied for dual citizenship since the referendum vote.

Now, it is within the rules for a Member of Parliament to hold dual nationality of certain countries. People who wish to stand as an MP must be a British citizen, or citizen of a Commonwealth country, or the Republic of Ireland. The prominent Leave campaigner and Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, was born in Germany but she gave up her German citizenship on election to the House of Commons in the 1990s, when it was not permitted for members to retain two nationalities. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson recently gave up his dual citizenship with the United States. (And with it, the opportunity for us to speculate as to his ambitions to run for the US Presidency).

But this sudden spark of MP interest in acquiring dual nationality has not gone unnoticed, or without criticism. Conservative Eurosceptic MP Andrew Bridgen told The Times:

“If people are elected to represent the UK and now decide they want to be a foreign national then that’s a bit of a stab in the back for us. Perhaps they should also take a share of southern Irish debt. I think they should immediately stand down from the House of Commons if they have done that. They can then go and stand for the Irish Senate instead.”

(I’m assuming he meant Oireachtas Éireann, comprised of the Dáil and Seanad.)

Speaking of passports: following the referendum outcome, several pro-leave campaigners called for a return of blue passports for British Nationals. Nigel Farage, the apparently-ever-present-leader of UKIP, was one such Leave campaigner who has made a demand for the return. These were phased out in 1988, but in September the UK Home Office seemingly suggested they might make a return in the future.

Responding to a written question from Conservative MP Julian Knight enquiring about the possibility of seeing a return to the old passports, Home Office minister Robert Goodwill said:

“We are considering potential changes to the UK passport after the UK has left the European Union.

“At this early stage we have not undertaken a detailed cost benefit analysis or made any decisions about what a future UK passport might look like.”

There we have it. Brexit means Brexit, and Make Passports Blue Again. If Brexit brings nothing else, at least it has provided slogans and soundbites aplenty for the Eurosceptic faithful.

For those who have applied for Irish passports, I do hope you checked your eligibility beforehand. If you were: born in Ireland/born abroad to an Irish-born parent/have acquired citizenship through foreign birth registration/born abroad and adopted under Irish law/have acquired citizenship through naturalisation/have post-nuptial citizenship, you could just be eligible.

Now, if only those who applied were so keen to pay Irish taxes…

 

 

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