Sharp rise in number of EU nationals applying for UK citizenship

The number of German, Italian and French nationals applying for British citizenship has more than trebled in three years as the impact of the Brexit referendum is felt, government data has revealed.

Almost 30,000 EU nationals applied to become British citizens between June 2016 and June 2017, double the previous year.

By volume, Poles topped the list of those seeking British citizenship in the past three years with just under 6,200 applying in the year to June 2017, up 44% on the previous year.

The sharpest rise in applications was among Germans, whose applications jumped from 797 in the year to June 2016 to 2,338 in the year to June 2017.

The number of Italians opting for citizenship rose from 1,109 to 2,950 for the same period, while the number of Spanish almost tripled from about 500 to approximately 1,400.

The biggest jump in percentage terms was among Finnish people, although the volume of applicants was small at 220 – a jump of 255% on the previous year.

Half of the 28,502 applications made in the year after the Brexit vote were made on residency grounds according to the figures provided by the Home Office under the Freedom of Information Act.

A further 6,839 applications were made in the same period on behalf of minors, up 77% on the previous year and more than double the 2014-15 figure.

Figures provided by the Home Office showing the grounds on which individuals applied for citizenship in the year after Brexit compared with previous years

The looming divorce between the EU the UK appears to have consolidated many continental relationships, with a sharp rise in EU nationals applying for citizenship through marriage. Numbers were more than double those recorded in each of the two years before the referendum, standing at 4,342.

Italian, French and German citizenship applications more than trebled in three years.

The uncertainty over Brexit has led to record numbers of EU27 nationals living in Britain trying to secure their status. Recent Home Office figures show that 168,913 permanent residence documents were issued in 2017, the highest ever number and twice the 65,068 issued the previous year.

More recent headline figures from the Home Office show the number of citizenship applications for British citizenship from EU27 nationals has not dimmed: in the full year 2017 there were 38,528 applications, two-and-a-half times the 2016 figure (15,460).

Compared with overall numbers of EU citizens living in the UK, those opting for British citizenship remains very small. Latest ONS data shows there are 907,000 Polish-born citizens in the UK, 299,000 Germans, 220,000 Italians, 164,000 French and 157,000 Spanish.

Applications for citizenship through marriage were highest among Polish, German and Italian nationals

Just over 15,000 of the citizenship applications made in the year after the Brexit referendum were made on the basis of residence in the UK, a 61% rise on the year before the EU referendum.

To become naturalised, EU citizens need to have been resident in the UK for five years if the application is being made on residence grounds. Naturalisation costs £1,282.

Russian spy attack: Johnson welcomes allies’ support

Foreign secretary’s remarks precede Trump sacking of Tillerson, who had criticised Moscow

The UK has been encouraged by the “strength of support” from allies to take action against Russia after the nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter, Boris Johnson said just hours before the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was sacked by Donald Trump.

Tillerson, who spoke to the foreign secretary on Monday afternoon, had told reporters the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal “clearly came from Russia” and would have consequences.

His remarks went further than those of Theresa May, who told the House of Commons on Monday it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the attack. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had stopped short of pointing the finger at Russia.

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Sweden’s Finns fear minority language rights are under threat

As rising immigration increasingly puts Scandinavia’s reputation for tolerance to the test, Sweden’s largest national minority fears its language rights are threatened and children will grow up with little or no knowledge of their mother tongue.

Finnish-speaking Swedes, known as Sweden Finns (sverigefinnar), make up more than 7% of the country’s 10 million-strong population and are entitled to Finnish lessons in school since Sweden reversed an earlier postwar approach of forced assimilation.

But complaints that minority language policies are not being respected are mounting. Reports for the Swedish government in the past 12 months point to failures with respect to Sweden Finns in particular, but paint “a dark picture” of the situation for national minority languages in Sweden as a whole.

There is a “severe danger” that the Finnish language will die out in the country, said Sari Pesonen of the Institute of Slavic and Baltic languages at Stockholm University, a co-author of recent research. “The signals we get from teachers, for example, they tell us that the situation is bad. Something needs to be done, and quickly.”

Pupils at one school in Gothenburg have reported being told to stop communicating in Finnish altogether. Nelli Tiikkaja, nine, said teachers had told her not to speak her mother tongue.

“They tell us to stop speaking Finnish if they hear us,” she said. “That feels sad. It doesn’t feel good when I’m not allowed to speak Finnish, because for me it is the easiest language.”

Other children at the school have also told her to stop, Nelli said. “Sometimes they threaten us. A boy in the other class once said he would punch us if we kept speaking Finnish … It feels like they want to destroy the whole Finnish language.”

A street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden

A street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photograph: Beatrice Törnros

Nelli is not alone. Parents of Finnish-speaking children at the school took their complaints to the head, whose investigation confirmed that, although details were uncertain, one member of staff, who left in February 2017, had tried to stop students speaking their native language.

“It’s not good that students hear they’re not allowed to speak their mother tongue,” said Ingela Bertheden, the headteacher, adding that she had told staff she wanted no language bans at the school.

A similar case at a school in Västerås, about an hour outside Stockholm, has been reported to the national ombudsman for discrimination.

The Council of Europe last year reported that Sweden was “experiencing an increase in instances of interethnic intolerance, racism and hate speech” that was affecting national minorities, including language teaching.

It found several cases of Finnish teachers prohibited from using the language in school outside the classroom. “I have heard of many cases where Finnish teachers have been discriminated against,” says Sirpa Humalisto, the head of Sweden’s Finnish teachers’ association.

The position of Sweden’s four other official minority languages – Sami, Roma, Yiddish and Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish) – may be worse, since they are spoken by fewer people. Municipalities have “almost completely failed” to apply minorities policy across the country, according to an official report in the summer.

The situation in Sweden is almost the opposite of Finland, where Swedish is compulsory for all school students even though only about 5% of the population have Swedish as their mother tongue.

Of an estimated 6,000 children entitled to Finnish mother tongue education in Gothenburg alone, only 177 are receiving it, according to the city council. In January last year, the only Finnish-language school in the city was closed down after a negative evaluation by the Swedish schools inspectorate.

“I do not want to move my daughter to Finland for her to go to Finnish-language pre-school, but that’s exactly what I have to do today if nothing changes fast,” wrote Sonja Jakobsson, under an online petition in the summer calling on Gothenburg council to deliver on bilingual schooling rights.

“Swedish-speaking people have an obvious place in Finnish society and are given clear Swedish-language schooling in Finland – why is it not the same for Finns here?”

The condition of the Finnish language in Sweden, say critics, means that the country lacks qualified mother-tongue teachers, as well as workers in other fields, such as elderly care.

In other areas, Sweden’s Finnish minority enjoys more rights than before, according to Petra Palkio, a board member of the Sweden Finnish Delegation.

“The media are covering us in a different way; we are more proud of being Sweden Finns,” Palkio said. By failing to invest sufficiently in its Finnish minority, “Sweden is robbing itself,” she said.

Tory links to Russia and Saudis run deep. So where’s the outrage? | Owen Jones

Never mind ‘Corbyn the spy’, our governing party pockets millions from regimes that back extremism – and gets away with it

The Conservative party is in the pocket of foreign powers that represent a threat to the national security of Britain. It is a grotesquely under-reported national scandal, lost amid a hysterical Tory campaign to delegitimise the Labour party with false allegations of treason. If Labour had received £820,000 from Russian-linked oligarchs and companies in the past 20 months – and indeed £3m since 2010 – the media outrage would be deafening. But this is the Tory party, so there are no cries of treachery, of being in league with a hostile foreign power, of threatening the nation’s security.

When questioned about the Russian donations to the Tory party, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, pointedly refused to return the money. “There are people in this country who are British citizens, who are of Russian origin,” he protested. “I don’t think we should taint them, or should tar them, with Putin’s brush.” How noble: a Tory challenging the demonisation of migrants.

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Russian spy attack: focus falls on Salisbury cemetery

Hundreds of troops arrive on streets and experts in hazmat suits work near grave of Sergei Skripal’s wife

Almost 200 members of the armed forces arrived on the streets of Salisbury on Friday to support police investigating the nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy and his daughter, as attention focused on the cemetery where the remains of Sergei Skripal’s wife and and son lie.

In extraordinary scenes at the city’s London Road cemetery that indicated the investigation was gathering pace, experts in full hazmat suits helped set up tents over the grave of Liudmila Skripal and the memorial of Alexander Skripal, who both died in recent years.

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EU set to expose differences with Theresa May in draft Brexit guidelines

Proposals, due for publication on Tuesday, will be as vague as possible in order to force UK to explain what it wants

The EU will keep its draft guidelines for a post-Brexit trade deal as short and general as possible, the Guardian understands, in order to force Theresa May to explain what the UK wants and leaving the door open for a British shift on the customs union and single market.

The publication of the EU’s draft guidelines on Tuesday will be a stark moment for the prime minister, as it is made clear that a whole range of proposals made by May in her Mansion House speech on Friday are to be rejected.

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Merkel secures fourth term in power after SPD backs coalition deal

Angela Merkel has secured her fourth term in power after Germany’s Social Democratic party (SPD) agreed to form another “grand coalition” government with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The SPD announcement ends almost six months of uncertainty in German politics, the longest the country has been without a government in its postwar history, and puts Europe’s largest economy in a position to answer the challenges for EU reform laid down by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

Congratulating the SPD for its “clear result”, Merkel said she was looking forward to “further cooperation for the good of our country,” according to a tweet attributed to her on her CDU party’s account. Macron’s office welcomed the decision, saying “this is good news for Europe.”

But with both Merkel’s party and the SPD facing internal calls for a programmatic reboot and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) now the biggest opposition party in parliament, the new government’s stability will likely be tested.

When the Social Democrat treasurer, Dietmar Nietan, announced on Sunday morning that a majority of SPD members had given the green light to a new “GroKo” or “grand coalition”, it was met with quiet relief rather than enthusiastic applause.

“We now have some clarity,” said the Social Democrats’ caretaker leader, Olaf Scholz, a contender for the role of finance minister, speaking at Willy Brandt House in Berlin, the party’s headquarters. “The SPD will enter into government.”

The results of the poll are announced at the SPD party headquarters in Berlin

The SPD treasurer, Dietmar Nietan (centre left), and the temporary party leader,Olaf Scholz, announce the results of the poll at party headquarters in Berlin. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/AFP/Getty Images

Only muffled cheers from behind the closed doors of the headquarters minutes earlier gave a hint of the weight of expectation that weeks of turmoil had piled on the centre-left party’s leadership.

A majority of 66.02% of 463,723 eligible SPD members voted in favour of renewing the constellation that has governed Germany for the last four years – a more decisive outcome than a narrow vote among delegates in January had indicated, but also a diminished achievement compared with the 76% who had endorsed a grand coalition four years ago.

In the wake of historically disappointing results at federal elections last September, the SPD leader, Martin Schulz, had initially ruled out joining Merkel in government.

But the collapse of talks to form an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green party forced the German centre-left back to the negotiating table. With its back against the wall, the SPD managed to secure a surprising victory in getting the chancellor to cede control of the influential finance ministry.

A Young Socialists youth wing led by Kevin Kühnert, an energetic 28-year-old, nevertheless put together an effective campaign that encouraged members to reject the deal that the party’s senior leadership had agreed with Merkel’s CDU.

Europe’s oldest social democratic party needed to reinvent itself in opposition if it wanted to avoid the fate of the French socialists, the “No GroKo” camp argued.

Watching the announcement of the membership vote result on Sunday, Kühnert expressed his disappointment but indicated that he could continue to play an active role in the debate over the German left’s future.

“Disappointment undoubtedly prevails among many Young Socialists and myself,” he said, adding that the SPD now had to rise to the difficult challenge of renewing its identity while in government. “We will keep a close eye on the government – on both of its sides.”

Following the resignation of the failed candidate for chancellor Martin Schulz, the Social Democrats are likely to next month elect the former labour minister Andrea Nahles as the first female leader in its 155-year history.

A former leader of the Young Socialists who was once seen as a rising star on the party’s left wing, Nahles will try to reverse her party’s decline by establishing a more combative and confrontational approach with the CDU.

This week, the SPD will discuss the contenders for its six ministerial post, with the interim leader, Olaf Scholz, confirming on Sunday that his party will supply three female and three male ministers. Merkel is due to be officially sworn in as chancellor on 14 March.

Andrea Nahles, who is expected to become the next SPD leader, gives a statement after the vote result

Andrea Nahles, who is expected to become the next SPD leader, gives a statement after the vote result. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/AFP/Getty Images

Scholz, a liberal centrist and the mayor of Hamburg, is mooted to replace the CDU veteran Wolfgang Schäuble in the powerful finance ministry, where he will have to pay lip service to his predecessor’s dogma of a balanced budget while simultaneously meeting a commitment to increase Germany’s contributions to the EU budget, as outlined in the coalition deal.

“We don’t want to prescribe to other European states how they should develop,” Scholz said in a recent interview with Der Spiegel. “Mistakes have certainly been made in that regard in the past. And we need to ask ourselves how to deal with the consequences of Brexit.”

Merkel, meanwhile, has to juggle more immediate challenges on the international stage with a long-term task of arranging her successorship in a way that does not reverse a legacy of moving the CDU into the centre of the political spectrum.

The new party secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, looks like the centrist candidate best equipped to moderate calls for a “conservative revolution” from the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), which will be in charge of the interior ministry, and the ambitious new health minister, Jens Spahn.

In the short run, the various political factions that make up Germany’s government will have to learn to pull together to face a looming twin threat to the country’s important car industry. Merkel will have to draw on all of the diplomatic know-how acquired in her 13 years in power to find a response to Donald Trump’s threat to tax Europe-made cars.

Closer to home, Merkel and her ministers also have find innovative ways to avert bans on diesel cars in highly polluted cities such as Stuttgart or Düsseldorf, rendered legal by a court ruling last week, which would affect millions of drivers.