Based in Brussels, the European Commission employs over 32,000 civil servants. 917 of these are from the UK, and British staff are increasingly looking to secure an EU passport. Uncertainty over Brexit still has not been resolved despite over a year of negotiations between the UK and EU. Around 10% of UK citizens working in the Commission have applied for EU passports from other countries, but many already fear that they will be looked over for career progression. Many have built lives for themselves in Europe, and hope to secure the right to remain and work throughout Europe after Brexit is finalised.
Most have applied for Irish citizenship, which offers the chance for people with Irish grandparents to apply for a passport. Irish people emigrated to England in large numbers throughout the twentieth century, while the Irish economy suffered little growth and could not offer many opportunities to its citizens. Application forms for Irish passports ran out in some parts of the UK after the referendum, as people feared that their rights as EU citizens, including freedom of movement, would be ended once Brexit was complete. Over 150,000 Irish passports have been given to UK-based Irish citizens since then, a number that is considerably higher than before the referendum. There has been a large reduction in the number of British civil servants working at the European Commission since the UK opted to leave the EU. In 2016 there was over 1,150 British staff working in Brussels, but this number declined by nearly a quarter to 917 in 2018.
The EU is ratcheting up the pressure on Westminster to finalise the exact details of the relationship between Europe and the UK after it leaves. Theresa May’s cabinet is divided between Brexiteers, supporting a hard Brexit and those who favour a closer relationship with the continent. Major stumbling blocks are the precise customs arrangements between the supernational body and Britain, and how the border with Ireland should be handled. Prime Minister May triggered Article 50, the mechanism by which a country withdraws from the EU, on the 29th of March 2017. This set a two-year clock counting down, and despite the arrangement of a transition period, no major issues have been sorted out since then. The clock runs out on the 29th of March 2019, less than a year away.
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