Thu, May 17, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Jumping ship: Brexit-hit EU staff ditch UK passports

Many British civil servants at the European Commission are seeking Irish citizenship through their roots there, but are nevertheless pessimistic about their job prospects

By Samantha Koester and Alastair Macdonald  /  Reuters, BRUSSELS

Illustration: Mountain People

About one in 10 British civil servants at the European Commission has taken another EU nationality since the Brexit vote, but is nonetheless resigned to scant prospects of future promotion.

Figures from EU data provided to Reuters and interviews reflect a pessimistic view of the future in Brussels for nearly 900 remaining British staff on the EU executive once Britain leaves the bloc in March next year following its June 2016 referendum.

They also highlight the role of nationality in EU career advancement, despite a formal taboo on discrimination according to passport — as some Britons have already found to their cost.

“As Brits, our careers here are already finished,” said one mid-ranking official with more than 20 years service at the commission who, like many of those switching, has now acquired an Irish passport through descent.

“But no one will see me as Irish. This is basically just an insurance policy for now,” the official said.

EU President Jean-Claude Juncker in late March gave British staff a formal undertaking that the commission would not exercise its right to dismiss them after March 29 next year when they lose the EU citizenship that is a normal requirement for employment.

However, despite such sympathy at the top for their plight, Britons have already been voting with their feet.

Public data shows that on Jan. 1 there were 894 commission employees whose officially recorded first nationality was British. That was down 135, or 13 percent, from a year earlier and 240, or 21 percent, fewer than at the start of 2016.

Internal data cited by an EU official showed that since May 2016 “slightly above 150” Britons retired, resigned or left at the end of the kind of temporary contract given to a quarter of the commission’s 32,000 staff; about 65 British citizens were hired, but all but four of these were on short-term contracts.

Strikingly, compared with that net decline of 85, “slightly above 100” more Britons also switched their “first nationality” to another of the 27 EU states, notably to Ireland, where many millions of British people have roots, as well as to France.

In a tweet sent on the day after the Brexit vote devastated his colleagues, one British EU official with dual nationality posted a photograph of a bottle of Irish whiskey.

“Time to connect with my Irishness to numb my wounded Britishness,” he wrote.

Britain allows dual nationality, so those switching in the EU are not obliged to renounce their UK citizenship.

Conversations with EU officials — none would speak on the record about personal choices — showed some Britons already had dual citizenship and have merely switched the “first nationality” recorded in commission records.

Some raced to acquire new passports after the referendum. Others also have another citizenship, but have yet to formally switch to it, while many are thinking of or are applying to other countries.

Among these, notably, is Belgium. It has resisted granting citizenship to some EU officials, despite many having spent decades living in Brussels, on the grounds that they have not been in the local tax system.

Juncker this month appealed personally to the Belgian prime minister to show them compassion.

The issue of nationality in EU careers is a delicate one. Formally, officials “leave their passports at the door,” though officials also expect teams to reflect the bloc’s diversity.

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