A post in the “The 48%”, a Facebook group of Remain supporters, popped up from another Briton in Austria earlier in the autumn, who had just arrived at the decision to choose to naturalise as an Austrian citizen, in so doing of course having to renounce his UK citizenship. Since contact with him, I have also made contact to other UK citizens in Austria within the group, and weighed up our collective plights.
Back in mid-October I attended an information evening held by a lawyer specialising in citizenship applications and naturalisation. One lady, who had naturalised as a Russian to take British citizenship, who was also attending the event, made a very interesting remark that hit home with me. She had attended the event to get initial information – although she realised that the option was going to be a way off still in terms of the residence qualification. She said that the realisation of taking up a nationality that required you surrender your existing citizenship(s) was a different dynamic to acquiring an additional citizenship.
The evening had already confirmed what I had always understood: some countries don’t necessarily like people to hold dual citizenship, but there are ways to do so. Other countries only grant a citizenship once you have furnished proof of renunciation being under way. Others issue the papers of renunciation and then allow a resumption of the initial citizenship, to circumvent this kind of an issue. Citizenship is an interesting issue, in terms of how it is acquired and renounced, and the permutations for acquiring it can also be varied.
Thinking back to the emotional bond of citizenship, I have experienced a pendulum of emotions on the issue this year. I was the proud father of a “freshly minted” British citizen – perching him in a Union Jack armchair with his new UK passport to capture the proud moment of my son’s British citizenship being confirmed. From birth, the Austrian authorities had always viewed him as British – as confirmed through his birth registration and the papers I had had to furnish to confirm this to be the case.
Prior to the Referendum, I had mentioned that my Plan B would be to naturalise and take up Austrian citizenship – in the presumed unlikely event of a “No” majority to remaining in the EU. But it was never something I had really considered to be a likelihood, until I stood looking out on the 46th Floor of One Canada Square at a meeting the week before the Referendum and had the sinking feeling that things were about to change. I looked out across the London skyline, and felt that the UK, regardless of whether it chose to remain in the EU, and to implement the result of the advisory Referendum, was not the same country I had grown up in and spent my formative years in.
As the news hit home on Friday 24th June, the day of my 39th birthday, my reflex reaction was to consider naturalisation immediately, but as the politicians exited the stage in ever more rapid succession, I felt as though any decision I might chose to take would also be a case of me deserting the country that I had been raised in, and no longer how long I live in Austria for and how integrated I am, the UK remains ultimately the country which shaped my identity, even though I can justifiably argue that Austria is practically exclusively responsible for shaping my professional identity.
In the immediate aftermath of the Referendum, I also told myself that I should not rush to make a hasty, difficult to reverse, and to all intents and purposes permanent decision. Visiting the UK again in early July as the leadership battle unravelled – as I left the UK Theresa May was announced as the new Prime Minister – and I felt that I was leaving the UK uncertain of when I would next visit again, feeling so disenfranchised and desperate about the plight of the country, not least to mention helpless.
However, as I saw the leaders of the Leave campaign falling by the wayside in July, I veered back to feeling that I was deserting the country that shaped my identity through to adulthood. The course, however, shown by the government has made it apparent that they have little concern for Britons in the EU, other than making them and EU citizens in the UK bargaining chips for the Brexit (whether it hard / soft / bad / evil / jam-based or any of the 974 adjectives used to form a collocation of the form it will take).
The news that came in in October that there would be votes for life for UK citizens came sadly too late – while I would like to vote in the UK in 2020 to bounce out my sitting MP for flip-flopping from personal Remainer to obeying the party whip, provided of course that the UK hasn’t already Brexited – whether Article 50 will be triggered by 31 March next year as Theresa May has said, remains to be seen.
I am now getting my paperwork together to take Austrian citizenship, although am sweating on the result of the delayed re-run of the run-off of the Presidential election. I fear it will be very close again and that the result will only be contested if Norbert Hofer does not get in. In a year where there have been so many politically cataclysmic results (of an advisory or non-advisory nature), I fear that the headlines for politics are far from over being written. The fact is though, that Austrian citizenship will allow my wife and I to hold the citizenship of the country we call our home, and in which our son will be raised (hopefully far away from the second rate over-priced international school bubble).