Brexit: Rise in Britons renouncing UK citizenship since vote to leave EU

There was a 30 per cent rise in people handing over their British passports in 2021

Luke Butterly
Sunday 08 January 2023 15:24 GMT
Keir Starmer promises ‘take back control’ bill as Labour embraces Brexit slogan

The number of people giving up their UK citizenship has soared since Brexit, new figures obtained by the Independent reveal.

A Freedom Of Information request shows that 868 people applied to hand over their British passports in 2021.

This was a 30 per cent rise on 2020 numbers, and six times what it was a decade ago – when only around 140 people per year did so.

Overall 6,507 people have applied to renounce their UK citizenship between 2011 and 2021.

The reasons behind renouncing vary from person to person, according to Maryem Ahmed, head of the immigration department at specialist firm OTS Solicitors. “It depends on everyone’s preference and circumstances”, she said.

The most common reason is when someone wants to take up citizenship in another country which, unlike the UK, restricts or bans dual nationality.

Ms Ahmed said one former client had to renounce his British citizenship to obtain the Chinese nationality needed to be eligible to play for a football team there.

Another client gave up their UK passport in order to become a national of Singapore, which is necessary to gain access to certain rights in that country such as buying property.

While restrictions on dual nationality are a long-standing issue, Brexit has led to new complications for some British nationals living in the EU.

There was a surge in Britons applying for non-UK passports following Brexit, in order to enjoy the rights of EU citizenship.

This includes countries such as France, Belgium or Ireland

However, for other countries, such as Spain or the Netherlands, dual-UK nationality is not allowed in most cases.

And since the end of 2020, similar restrictions have come into effect for those seeking German citizenship.

British nationals living in those countries can face a tough choice, says professor Michaela Benson, a citizenship expert at Lancaster University who has been researching the situation of British nationals in the EU since the referendum.

Various schemes in those countries allowed them to get post-Brexit residency permits. But in order to obtain full rights – including election votes – it may mean giving up their UK passport in order to naturalise.

This is especially the case for people of working age “who want to make themselves competitive in the European labour market”, she said. Having an EU passport and the freedom of movement rights that it entails is essential.

“What this means is that if people want full citizenship rights in the countries that they live in, they may have to take the citizenship of that country and have to renounce their British citizenship.”

She added: “Spain is an interesting one because it is home to probably the largest population of British citizens in the EU. And that was flagged all throughout the negotiations by British citizens living there, that they weren’t like their compatriots in France, they weren’t in a position to acquire Spanish citizenship while keeping British citizenship.”

Giving up your British passport means giving up your right to move freely back to the UK, needing a visa to stay in the country, and losing the right to vote.

Asked about the rise in people giving up their British citizenship, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The majority of people who choose to renounce their British citizenship do so to acquire or keep the nationality of another country which, unlike the UK, does not allow for dual nationality.”

They added that anyone who has renounced their citizenship can seek to resume it under the British Nationality Act, but that this is at the discretion of the home secretary.

There are no plans to offer an automatic right of resumption.

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