Number of British passports issued in Northern Ireland falls
DUP’s Sammy Wilson says there may be ‘a lot of reasons’ for decline, which follows Brexit vote
Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, said he was ‘not particularly’ concerned about the trend of declining British passports and increasing Irish passports. Photograph: Liam McBurney
The number of British passports issued in Northern Ireland has been steadily declining over the past four years, with the most significant drop in the year after the 2016 Brexit referendum, new official figures from London show.
The UK passport office began recording a breakdown of documents issued by region only in 2015.
That year, 129,550 British passports were printed for people living in Northern Ireland. The following year, the number dipped slightly to 128,759, while in 2017 it dropped to 121,858.
Last year, the figure fell again to 119,298.
The figures were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Over the same period, the issuance of Irish passports to citizens living in the North has risen significantly.
In 2015, some 53,715 Irish passports were issued through Northern Ireland Passport Express (NIPX), which is available at post offices in the North. This rose to 67,582 the following year, jumped to 82,274 in 2017 and increased again last year to 84,855.
The figures do not include Irish citizens in the North who apply for their passports from Dublin.
The number of Irish passports being issued every year through the NIPX has more than doubled over the past 10 years, figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs show.
Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim and the party’s Brexit spokesman, said he was “not particularly” concerned about the trend of declining British passports and increasing Irish passports.
“There could be a lot of reasons behind it, but nothing that would give any cause for alarm,” he said.
“The Irish passport comes through a heck of a deal faster than a British passport, so you may well find that a lot of people, like myself, leave things to the last minute and their passport is nearly expired.
“And if somebody came in and asked me for advice, saying they’re going on their holidays in the middle of September, should they apply for a British or Irish passport, I’ll tell them, if you want to go on your holidays, you best apply for an Irish passport rather than a British passport.”
Other possible factors in the trend could include concerns over disruption after Brexit, cost and issues to do with travel insurance, he added.
“There are lots of non-political reasons why people would take an Irish passport,” he said.
“People who are my voters come to me, and they are totally unembarrassed about getting an Irish passport – they just say would you sign this [Irish passport application] for me? End of story.
“I don’t think this is a voter going in the nationalist direction.”
Mr Wilson said he regularly gets “quite a lot” of constituents from loyalist areas who come to him to sign applications for Irish passports.
“I just signed two this week, I know them, they are from the unionist community. I have no doubt people are applying for Irish passports now who wouldn’t have had in the past.”
But Mr Wilson said he did not hold an Irish passport and would not be getting one.
“I don’t believe when we leave the EU that there is going to be any disruption,” he said.
“If you have to stand in a queue for an extra five minutes when you’re going through the airport at Malaga or whatever, big deal. It’s not an important issue as far as I’m concerned.”