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

“We can’t see how changing first nationality ... could result in any sort of advantage. Promotions of EU officials are based on merit only,” a commission spokeswoman said.

Even before Brexit, that view is contested by some who say privately that British colleagues have been passed over for expected promotions or removed from work that superiors feared could cause a conflict of loyalties between Brussels and London.

Some British EU staff said that has offended them, arguing that, if anything, they feel the Brexit vote has strengthened their commitment to a project people back home have abandoned.

“It’s been painful,” one veteran staffer said. “Since the referendum, I feel much less British — but the world sees me as much less European.”

Even those switching passports see little hope — certainly not in senior positions, where national governments are unlikely to lobby for what one Irish official described as “rebadged Brits.”

Like other capitals, Dublin wants jobs for its own.

The number of Commission officials recording Irish first nationality rose by 37 to 520 in the two years to January.

An Irish EU embassy spokesman said the issue of British EU officials taking Irish nationality was “complex” and that the government was “continuing to monitor matters.”

Even without Brexit, Euro-Brits have been a vanishing breed, reflecting what many of them see as long growing indifference to the EU among British voters and successive London governments.

While they once made up closer to the 13 percent of the EU population that Britain accounts for, they are today just 3 percent of the commission, albeit better represented in the senior ranks, reflecting longer EU membership than most states and more effort to see “national balance” across the top jobs.

Some British staffers speak of serving out time until their pension; others are sticking to EU ambitions, knowing that the commission does hire some non-EU nationals with special skills.

Rather than linger in roles of diminishing responsibility, some are looking to follow colleagues into the private sector.

A few are tempted to move to a London civil service that might grow thanks to Brexit; others see little welcome from a British establishment they feel has done little for them. Amid anger, grief and uncertainty, there is deal of British stiff upper lip.

“It’s not the end of the world,” one said. “No one’s going to be helicoptered off the embassy roof, Saigon-style.”

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