EU citizenship after Brexit

On 31 January 2020, Brexit became a fact. The UK is no longer an EU member state and is considered by the EU as a third country. Since the 2016 referendum the number of British citizens who have applied for citizenship of a member state has surged. Data shows that since the 2016 referendum, more than 350,000 UK citizens have retained EU citizenship by acquiring the citizenship of one of the remaining member states. Whether this meant renouncing their British citizenship depended on the policy of the receiving country.


In the Netherlands, the number of Brits currently acquiring Dutch citizenship on a yearly basis is higher than in the mid-1990s (1250 compared to 1174), according to the Dutch statistical bureau. While dual citizenship was tolerated by the Netherlands in the mid-1990s, currently it is only accepted vis-à-vis certain categories, for example partners of Dutch citizens. As Brexit raises lots of migration and residence questions for British citizens, the immigration service of the Netherlands has dedicated a special website to explaining their situation when living in the Netherlands.


The most dramatic increase was among UK-born people who applied for the first time for an Irish passport, rather than a renewal. Numbers rose from 7,372 in 2015 to 54,859 in 2019. In Spain, by contrast, the number of acquisitions is marginal. Of the 600,000 Brits who are estimated to live there, only 209 applied for a Spanish passport in 2018. The incentive to apply has decreased, at least for the moment, now that it is clear that under the Withdrawal Agreement the Spain-based Brits will have the same rights as enjoyed before the UK’s departure, at least for the transition period. The Economist has shown that other countries, including Germany and Sweden, have also become popular destinations for British citizens. “Between 2016 and 2018”, they note, “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”.



While many Brits would need to follow the ordinary naturalisation procedure in an EU member state, it is worth emphasizing that many citizenship laws allow certain categories to acquire citizenship more easily based on special achievements, cultural affinity or to right historical wrongs. Those claiming citizenship in other EU member states in order to keep ties to the continent indeed often have ancestors who came from other parts of Europe. Thousands of Brits of Jewish descent have tried to secure European citizenship either in Germany, despite their ancestors’ experience in Nazi Germany, or in Portugal and Spain. Coincidentally, the latter two countries – as we reported before – passed laws before the Brexit referendum which offered Jews who originate from the Iberian Peninsula (Sephardic Jews) a path to citizenship.


The topic of “compensatory citizenship” – making up for deficits in the original citizenship in terms of opportunities, security, rights and travel freedom – is vast and cannot be fully explored here. Suffice it to say that it can take different forms, depending on the policies in individual countries. The different paths to compensatory citizenship include “birth tourism” (in countries with unconditional ius soli), citizenship-by-investment and strategic naturalisation. Indeed, not only Brits but many non-EU citizens find themselves eligible for “long-distance acquisition through naturalisation” due to their ties with European countries, either as descendants of immigrants (e.g. Italian descendants in South America) or as co-ethnics living in neighbouring countries of the EU (e.g. the relationship between Moldova and Romania).


Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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