The leap in the number of UK citizens applying for EU passports since the Brexit vote has proved the bloc’s benefits, the prime minister of Luxembourg has claimed.
In a speech to the European Parliament, Xavier Bettel argued the EU provides “added value” which improves the daily lives of its citizens. He warned its benefits are increasingly being taken for granted and suggested that was a factor in the decision of UK voters to leave the EU in 2016.
But Bettel said the increase in citizenship applications from UK nationals seen by his and other member states since the Brexit vote showed the EU still made a difference.
“The European Union provides added value to European citizens in countless instances, improving their daily lives,” he told MEPs in Strasbourg.
“However, one of the greatest challenges that the union faces today is the fact that the advantages resulting from a country’s membership of the union are simply taken for granted. It is therefore not a coincidence in my view that so many UK citizens living in my country have been applying for Luxembourgish citizenship since the Brexit referendum.
“Many others are apparently doing the same in other member states.
“These applications for citizenship by UK citizens are proof of the huge added value of the public goods and services created by the European Union, which these citizens do not want to abandon – most obviously the four freedoms.”
Official EU figures published last month revealed 128 UK national acquired citizenship of Luxembourg in 2016 – up significantly since 2015 when the number was 72.
Overall, 6,555 UK nationals applied for citizenship of other EU countries in 2016 – a 165% increase on the previous year when the number was 2,478.
The figures for 2017 are expected to show another significant rise in applications but there is a similar trend emerging with demand for UK passports from EU citizens.
The UK government revealed recently that they received 40,465 applications in the 12 months to March 2018 – almost double the previous year.
Mr Bettel said Brexit as a “blow for all of us” and joked the UK was now asking for multiple opt ins to EU projects after spending decades demanding opt outs from them.
But the Luxembourg PM, whose predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker is now the European Commission president, said he respected the result of the 2016 referendum.
“To criticise voters because they’ve made a mistake would be a second mistake,” he said. “The people of Britain have chosen Brexit. I’m sorry about it but I have to respect that.”