‘Brexit Irishmen’ are not just selfish Brits with an Irish granny
Ireland should take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of British people who have chosen it
‘Whenever I travel, I choose to do so as an Irishman, embarrassed by Brexit and what it now means to be British.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
On the day the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, I found myself rapidly searching the internet for information on how to get an Irish passport. My grandmother was Irish and a few texts to my dad established where her birth certificate was and that he would get all the documents I needed in the post. I wasn’t alone; tens of thousands of people were doing the same, driving a surge in applications for citizenship and passports, motivated to retain freedom of movement in Europe.
My motivation to getting an Irish passport was solely about retaining my EU citizen rights. The process was slow – Ireland simply wasn’t prepared for the flood of enquiries it received leading up to and after the vote. It took weeks to get answers from the citizenship team, and my application was returned with requests for more information, particularly around the name Mazzei and what connection it had to my Irish grandmother. Finally, after about a year, I received my letter confirming my Irish citizenship, meaning I could then apply for the passport. Six more months passed, and finally I held my new passport telling the world I was Irish.
I first used my passport on a work trip to New York a couple of months later. On arrival, the US customs official nodded knowingly. “A Brexit Irishman” he said to me. He’d seen quite a few Brits going to New York on shiny new passports, extolling their new found connection to an island many of them had never been to. It’s now my passport of choice, and whenever I travel, I choose to do so as an Irishman, embarrassed by Brexit and what it now means to be British. I even have the European passport card which I always keep in my wallet and has replaced my UK driving licence as my ID of choice. Others I have spoken with who took up Irish citizenship after Brexit tell me similar things; they choose to travel as Irish as they are ashamed at being British when abroad.
What came with the passport, came with something else; a new national identify. I didn’t want to be a “plastic Paddy”, someone who walks around calling themselves Irish but not living the values. There was also a dawning realisation that the values of the UK were shifting rapidly, the Brexit vote not only making the nation more isolationist but also more conservative in its values. I witnessed the passion with which my Irish friends returned home to vote for women’s abortion rights, a cultural event of huge significance. While Ireland progresses into an ever more liberal and modern nation led by science and technology, the UK is regressing in on itself, harking back to Blitz spirit and obsessed with the second World War.
While I was enjoying my new identify, the Conservative government were driving an anti-globalist agenda. People like me who associated with the values of people in other places – such as Dublin, New York and California – were called “citizens of nowhere” by Theresa May. The effort to enforce a singular British nationality through the engine of Brexit raised a greater pride in not being British, in finding identity in another nation.
Throughout the UK are people who woke up that morning in 2016 and decided they wanted to be Irish. Most of these people have more in common with the values of Ireland than they now do with the country in which they were born. Most of them are well educated, liberal and passionate about making the world a better place. The process of picking up citizenship and getting a passport is neither simple or cheap; most of the enquiries after the Brexit vote didn’t go anywhere as people baulked at the costs (at least £500 or €546). The people who completed the process are motivated, intelligent people who would benefit the economy and culture of Ireland.
Ireland needs to think about how it can make use of the hundreds of thousands of Brits who have chosen to be Irish, who see greater opportunity in the liberal values and opportunities in a nation that wants to progress and be a key part of the EU. Many of us have skills Ireland needs, experience that is hard to find and a desire to be more Irish as we feel more and more ashamed at the direction our birth nation has taken. Ireland needs to engage with us better, to consider us more than just selfish Brits with an Irish granny who want to keep freedom of movement. Sooner or later politicians will need to engage with this group, who’ll look to exercise their democratic rights as an equal citizen.
Each and every new Irishman and woman I have spoken with cites the values of Ireland, the pride in its liberalism and its positive global reputation. We love being Irish. We can be proud of our citizenship without worrying about the nationalist baggage that comes along with being British, especially English. There are hundreds of thousands of Brits with Irish passports, a legion of people who can benefit Ireland’s future. Use us.
Nick Mazzei works in corporate social responsibility and is a former British army officer and Conservative election candidate