Blog: ‘I feel smug going in the short queue’: UK readers on getting EU passports – The Guardian

As the realities of the end of free movement are felt acutely by millions of British holidaymakers this summer, people in the UK and the EU have discussed their reasons for applying for a European passport after the Brexit vote.

The Guardian received more than 800 submissions and almost half of respondents had gained Irish citizenship, reflecting the surge in the number of Irish passports issued in Great Britain in recent years.

While the right to work, travel and retire in the EU were raised across the board, many also discussed the issue of European identity. Additionally, while the majority were not forced to give up their UK passport in order to gain EU citizenship, some said they would have done so had they been forced to choose.

Here, six people share why they applied for European citizenships and what it feels like to have gained another nationality.

‘I relearned French to show my commitment’

Mark Noble, 75, during a Rugby game, cheering on the French side. Photograph: Mark Noble/Guardian Community

“I was granted French nationality in 2018, but I have kept and will keep my UK passport. My wife and children have joint British-French nationality. I was devastated by Brexit and applied after the referendum. The process took circa a year and cost about £800.

“Because of my advanced age I did not have to take a language exam but decided to do so to show how committed I was to becoming French. This involved going back to verb tables and past exam papers. I had not written French since my O-level in 1964!

“I’m really proud of my French passport, and was pleased to vote in the last presidential election, which is part of being French. But when I’m in France I don’t tell people I’ve got French nationality.

“Some cultural differences are distinct: the French are fond of rioting, the British slow to kick up a fuss. I find the behaviour of French police very odd.

“But I feel smug going through the short queue at the Eurotunnel, which is probably the only practical benefit of gaining EU citizenship for me, due to my age.” Mark Noble, 75, a retired chartered accountant from Oxfordshire

‘I gained Irish citizenship, but my family couldn’t’

“I applied for Irish citizenship via my grandfather. Sadly, neither of my children are eligible to inherit my Irishness.

“I’m not sure what benefit the passport itself would give me, as my partner and kids only have British passports, and I would not want to be separated from them.

“But I feel proud of it and look forward to visiting Ireland more, as I hardly know it, which is odd now!

“My mum says her father would have found it astonishing that his grandchildren would be going through all this effort and expense in order to be Irish via him, as his generation felt they were leaving for better opportunities in Glasgow and that becoming British was going to improve their lives. Now things are a bit reversed.” Amy Cooper-Wright, 37, a designer and entrepreneur from London

‘Getting citizenship solidified my Finnish identity’

Jamie McDonald. Photograph: Jamie McDonald

“Both my parents are British; we moved to Finland for my dad’s job when I was 12. I did all of my schooling in Finland in English and moved back to the UK for university. In 2018, however, with Brexit on the horizon, I left my job in the UK and moved back to Finland with the intent of securing citizenship.

“I spent two years improving my Finnish language skills – it’s a very difficult language to learn. I passed that and since then, I have just been using it more and more, and I now work in Finnish.

“As a male under the age of 30, though, I am required to complete either military or civilian service – the price to pay for the citizenship, but one that I knew was part of the deal!

“Getting citizenship solidified my affinity with Finland – and then there’s the nice aspect of travelling and working easily within Europe.” Jamie McDonald, 26, Helsinki, completing national service

‘I couldn’t have afforded to return to a life in the UK on my pension’

Sandra Jones, 72, moved to France when she retired and applied for Polish citizenship after Brexit. Photograph: Sandra Jones/Guardian Community

“I moved to France in 2012 to live in our old family holiday house after my divorce and retirement, just me and the dog. I chose France as I wouldn’t be able to afford renting in the UK on my small pension. All my children are in the UK. I cried on the morning after the referendum, I have always regarded myself European.

“I was born in England to an English mother and Polish father and I never really knew my father but I read that I was entitled to Polish citizenship.

“Finally after two years, a great detective search for my father’s documents and a not insignificant €1,800 [£1,500] I received my Polish citizenship certificate. I cried with joy and relief when my Polish passport arrived, but did not have my British one rescinded.

“For those of us living in the EU who aren’t millionaires Brexit has brought many stressful hurdles, the latest being a letter form Barclays telling me my UK sterling account I have had for decades and into which I receive my pension will close in January.

“I’ve never been to Poland, but I’m hoping to go soon, it’s on the bucket list.” Sandra Jones, 72, a pensioner living in Herault, France

‘It feels like a huge relief to be a citizen in Spain’

Hilary Plass. Photograph: Hilary Plass

“I have lived in Spain for more than 30 years – this is my home. I started the process the of applying for Spanish citizenship the day after the referendum. I had to wait 4.5 years for my application to be approved, partly due to the pandemic. In order to get my Spanish passport, I had to verbally renounce my British citizenship (but not hand in my British passport).

“There was a swearing in ceremony where I had to promise to honour the king, obey the constitution and renounce my British nationality.

“I did resent that, as I’ll always be British, that’s my culture, that’s my upbringing, although I’m very integrated here. I would have handed over my passport if I had to, and will do if the rules change in future.

“I never had any doubts about doing it, I needed to be European. It feels like a huge relief to be a citizen here.” Hilary Plass, 69, Madrid, retired

‘Only being British would have robbed me of many opportunities’

Karim, 21, would renounce his British citizenship if he had to choose between his German and British passport. Photograph: Guardian Witness/Guardian Community

“I was 14 going on 15, in the summer of 2015, when I decided to apply for a German passport, as the prospect of the Brexit vote grew ever closer. Everyone around me was convinced that we would remain – but I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. I was born in the UK, but my mother had UK and German citizenship, so I knew I was eligible.

“I’ve always had a strong connection to Germany, and I don’t intend to stay in the UK – I might go to Denmark next year.

“I’d give up my British nationality if I was made to choose. I’d be locked out of so many opportunities if I were just a Brit. Being British just doesn’t hold the same advantages any more as being German, Dutch or Swiss does.” Karim, 21, a student from Surrey

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