Double Dutch: 100,000 Dutch citizens in UK can apply for dual nationality

New law will protect citizens of Netherlands living in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit

The Dutch parliament has voted to allow about 100,000 of its citizens living in the UK to apply for dual nationality if there's a no-deal Brexit – but has decided not to extend the same unprecedented safeguard to British nationals living in the Netherlands.

"Dutch nationals in the UK should not become hostages to Brexit," tweeted Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of the centre-left D66, the party that tabled the new legislation. "Politicians of all parties must do our best here because there is complete chaos on the other side of the channel."

The new law will mean that although, in the vast majority of cases, the Netherlands does not allow its citizens to hold dual nationality, it will make an exception for those who have lived in Britain since before the 2016 referendum, and who’ve made it their permanent residence since then.

It's the thin end of the wedge to say that one group is worse affected than another and that therefore we must make an exception for them

Not alone that, but the Bill will allow anyone who has been driven by Brexit to begin the process of giving up their Dutch nationality to become British instead, to apply retrospectively to have their Dutch passports returned if there’s no deal.


More certainty

The draft legislation originally included the same treatment for some 85,000 British nationals living in the Netherlands, but that provision was dropped before this week’s vote, ostensibly because they have more certainty about their right to remain here indefinitely.

The reality, however, appears to have been that D66 realised there would not be enough cross-party support to get the Bill through parliament if the British expats were included in the package.

Despite the fact that D66 is a junior partner in the four-party coalition government, prime minister Mark Rutte’s own Liberal party has been vigorously opposed to the legislation on the grounds that it sets a precedent by creating a unique new category of dual national.

“It’s the thin end of the wedge to say that one group is worse affected than another and that therefore we must make an exception for them,” said the Liberals’ junior justice minister, Ankie Broekers-Knol.

Belated support

In the event, however, with the British jettisoned, D66 secured the belated support of the Liberals along with Labour, GreenLeft and 50Plus. The bill now goes to the Senate where it already has majority support.

The number of British citizens taking Dutch nationality has soared since 2016, with more than 1,300 applying last year alone. Unusually, British children born in the Netherlands have the right to dual citizenship when they turn 18.

Lobby group The3Million, which campaigns for the rights of European citizens affected by Brexit, points out that British living in the Netherlands face “catastrophic loss of their EU freedom of movement” – and says it will continue to campaign for wider dual nationality rights.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court