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7 July 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 5:45pm

How can people from the UK retain EU citizenship after Brexit?

It's possible, but it's not easy.

By Oz Ozkaya

Calls for a closer, more integrated Europe have not merely been made by late-20th century cosmopolitan liberals. It was that great hero of Britain’s most proudly patriotic, Sir Winston Churchill, who argued for European integration in response to the threat from Nazi Germany, proposing an idea dubbed the Declaration of Union between Great Britain and France. 

“The Franco-British Union” was his vision. He said: “Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France.” Despite what the Eurosceptics say, Churchill was actually one of the founding pioneers of Europeanism. It was also Churchill who grew the United States of Europe notion in his famous 1946 Zurich speech.

However, for all our best efforts trying to cultivate and replicate a pro-liberal European culture since entering the European Economic Community in 1973, we in Britain are about to find ourselves cast aside from the rest of Europe and potentially left without immediate access to it.

As indicated in Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty: “Every national of an [EU] Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.” It is a formality that our freedom of movement privileges will be cut, or, at worst, terminated. Reciprocally, EU citizens themselves are leaving Britain for a more stable residency due to anxiety the Brexit process has caused about their rights.

If the government isn’t able to strum up a much more pragmatic soft Brexit arrangement – similar to that of the EFTA countries – then British citizens could find themselves in an unfortunate predicament after the termination of their EU citizenship. Recent polling from Opinium suggests that more than 60 per cent of Britons are petrified at the thought.

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But hypothetically speaking, could people in the UK somehow keep hold of EU citizenship?  In short, yes. But it depends on your nationality, ancestral history, wealth and academic chops. Here are some some of the ways it could be done.

Luck of the Irish

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Despite being born in England to an Irish mother and a Turkish father, I was thankfully bequeathed an Irish passport at birth and I have proudly renewed it since. If you are similarly lucky to have an Irish parent, you can apply for your Irish passport – as can many of those born to parents from other EU/EEA members, thus retaining your citizenship.

However, the possibility of retaining EU citizenship through Ireland extends further. If you are from Northern Ireland, you are also able to get an Irish passport due to rules in the Good Friday Agreement entitling all citizens to one irrespective of whether you’re someone who identifies as British.

Even if neither of your parents was born in Ireland, if one of your grandparents is an Irish citizen who was born there you can also become an Irish citizen. And under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, if a child who is not an Irish citizen is adopted by an Irish citizen or a couple where either spouse is an Irish citizen, then the adopted child shall be an Irish citizen.

Studying in Europe for citizenship

Many European countries have a long history of coaxing foreign and international students to their nation firstly to study, then work and live. France, for example, would offer you citizenship after five years’ residency. If you were to study a masters, the naturalisation process would be cut down to two years.

Using a citizen-by-investment programme

You also have the option of “bribing” your way to an EU citizenship.

This isn’t by any means the cheapest or easiest way, but countries such as Malta, Spain and the Netherlands would be willing to accept your “investment” in exchange for a desirable fast-tracked route to citizenship.

Malta is currently the cheapest, requiring at least one year of residency and an investment of 1.15m euros. 

It is undoubtedly a controversial practice and is not approved by the European Commission. But it is legal – and can cost up to 5m euros depending on the member state.

Gaining citizenship through naturalisation 

Naturalisation would be the purest method through which you could gain citizenship of the European Union. This could be achieved by moving abroad and integrating yourself into another state within EU freedom of movement privileges.

Thanks to the Vienna convention, if you were to move to another nation before any official legislation relating to UK citizens’ rights were to change, then you could be saved from being asked to leave.

Sweden and Finland would be your best bet – and both allow dual citizenship so you could also keep your British passport if need be.