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.

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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EU finance head: we will regulate bitcoin if risks are not tackled

The European Union has warned that it will regulate cryptocurrencies if the risks exposed by the meteoric rise of bitcoin and its ilk are not addressed.

The boom and bust of cryptocurrencies has seen some investors make millions where others have suffered heavy losses. Bitcoin, which now trades at about $9,000 (£8,000) a token but recently dropped to less than $6,000, leads the pack, rising nearly 2,000% to just under $20,000 in 2017, fuelling a global investment craze.

“This is a global phenomenon and it’s important there is an international follow-up at the global level,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s financial chief, said on Monday. “We do not exclude the possibility to move ahead (by regulating cryptocurrencies) at the EU level if we see, for example, risks emerging but no clear international response emerging.”

Dombrovskis was speaking after hosting a roundtable meeting attended by the European Central Bank, industry bodies and the Financial Stability Board, which writes and coordinates regulation for the Group of 20 Economies.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers meet in Buenos Aires in March, with cryptocurrencies set to be on the agenda. The EU would decide how to address the issue later this year or early in 2019, the financial services commissioner said.

Regulation of cryptocurrencies could seek to bring them in line with financial legislation designed to combat money laundering and counter-terrorism, forcing traders to disclose their identities and look to make it more difficult to use bitcoin, Ethereum or others for illegal activities.

A member of the ECB’s executive board, Yves Mersch, recently called for a global clampdown on cryptocurrencies, saying the central bank was aligned with the views voiced by Agustín Carstens, the head of the Bank for International Settlements, who condemned bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.

Germany and France said this month that new opportunities arise from cryptocurrencies, but they could pose substantial risks for investors and be vulnerable to financial crime without safeguards. So far, however, there appears to be no strong consensus among G20 countries to regulate them closely.

Policymakers worry about losing jobs and growth to other regions if they crack down hard on innovation in the sector, especially stemming from the blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies, which Dombrovskis said held strong promise.

Markus Ferber, a centre-right member of the European parliament, said a quick EU regulatory response was needed, rather than waiting years for international rules to trickle through.

“In order to make sure that retail investors do not fall prey to market manipulation and fraud, virtual currencies should be regulated as other financial instruments,” Ferber said in a statement.

Diane Abbott calls for fairer immigration system for families

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, is to announce a Labour policy pledge on Wednesday to end “family break-up through the immigration system”.

Abbott is due to use her speech to outline the “fair and reasonable values” upon which Labour will base its immigration policy, a day before the quarterly publication of the net migration figures.

The migration data are expected to show growing evidence of a “Brexodus” with fewer European Union nationals coming to live in Britain and more leaving the country.

Abbott will renew Labour’s commitment at the last general election to scrap the government’s “false and unworkable net migration target” of bringing levels down to below 100,000 a year.

She is to highlight the fact that Theresa May’s target, and the hostile environment measures put in place that have so far failed to achieve it, are “leading to the scandalous situation where we are turning away doctors, even though there is a severe shortage of trained personnel in the NHS”.

The new commitment to ending family break-up in the immigration system will be explained, Abbott saying: “We will allow the carers or parents of admitted child refugees to come here. We will also end the practice of deporting the children, currently without entitlement to be here, once they turn 18, even when their parents are entitled to be here.”

It is “neither fair nor reasonable to break up families” in this way, according to Abbott. She is also to promise to use the speech to identify a large number of other current policies that do not comply with Labour’s “fair and reasonable values” and which will be altered or discontinued.

In recent weeks Abbott has been arguing that the immigration system is broken, not because it is not “tough” enough but because it lacks humanity and is based on meaningless targets rather than the priorities of jobs, growth and prosperity.

She has also sharply criticised the use of immigration detention without a time limit, promising that Labour will deal with all cases promptly and efficiently, and allow those who are entitled to stay to do so, and to deport those who are not.

Abbott’s intervention comes after the home secretary, Amber Rudd, confirmed that the long delayed government white paper on post-Brexit immigration had been postponed again and would be unlikely to appear before the autumn.

The Guardian view on Theresa May’s Munich speech: partnership should be indivisible | Editorial

Britain is offering commitment and cooperation to Europe on security and intelligence. It should do the same in its Brexit strategy

Theresa May and Angela Merkel speak in Berlin on 16 February 2018






Theresa May and Angela Merkel speak in Berlin on 16 February 2018. ‘Theresa May is in every context except Brexit a traditional multilateralist.’ Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

A year ago, the annual Munich security conference – the most important gathering of international defence chiefs and ministers in the calendar – met to debate the proposition: “Post-truth, post-West, post-Order?” A year on, this weekend’s Munich conference has a new theme: “To the Brink – and Back?” The sense of relief implicit in the difference between the 2017 and the 2018 themes is unmistakeable and, to an extent, justifiable. The Trump administration has not, after all, trashed everything in the policymakers’ world, as it threatened to do 12 months ago. Explosions in relations with Iran, North Korea and even China have been averted, for now. Washington has not so far rolled over in the face of Russian aggression in eastern Europe. The so-called Islamic State has been pushed back, for the moment. The insurgent political tide that swept the US and the UK in 2016 has mostly been kept at bay elsewhere.

Yet while the worst may have been avoided, genuine positives are thin on the ground. Global confrontations continue and in some cases – the Middle East, for example – to deteriorate dangerously. The alliances that exist to control and resist them are still in shock at the Trump effect. Theresa May is in every context except Brexit a traditional multilateralist. She will certainly give a less thoroughly provocative speech at the Munich conference on Saturday than the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, did at the same venue 12 months ago, when he ludicrously described Brexit as a national “liberation”. Yet, viewed from elsewhere in Europe, Mrs May still leads a country that, by voting for Brexit, has made a serious contribution to the problem of instability, not one that is playing a reliable role in solving it.

Mrs May’s rhetorical answer is the mantra that Britain is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe. Her visit to Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday and her appearance at the Munich conference are designed to underpin that message and to make it a springboard for her Brexit strategy. Britain, Mrs May says, is fully committed to European cooperation, through Nato and in other ways, to deal with common threats to security. She will cite the fact that British troops are on the frontline against Russia in Estonia, that she has just pledged a new support role with France in the Sahel, that planned troop withdrawals from Germany are now being reexamined, and that the UK is a heavy-hitting and reliable partner in intelligence sharing and police coordination.

Security and intelligence have now been placed squarely in the vanguard of Mrs May’s political effort to persuade the rest of Europe that Britain remains a reliable and committed post-Brexit partner. The head of MI6, Alex Younger, appeared in Munich on Friday with his French and German counterparts to commit themselves to cross-border information sharing. His predecessor Sir John Sawers and the former GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan took to the media with a similar message. And the prime minister will cap this all off on Saturday in a speech that repeatedly urges closer cooperation with Europe and proposes a new UK-EU security treaty.

There are things to welcome here. After a grim two years of government negativity about the EU, it is a relief to hear the prime minister praising the union and being practical about it. Yet it is hard to see what EU partners are supposed to make of a prime minister who embraces the union at one moment then turns her back on it the rest of the time. The one thing that she could do to make her protestations more credible is to bolster it with a soft Brexit strategy. But this, disastrously, is the one thing she is terrified of doing.

Brexit bill may have broken international environment law, says UN

The British government may have breached a major “environmental democracy” law by failing to consult the public when drawing up Brexit legislation.

A UN-backed committee has confirmed it is considering a complaint from Friends of the Earth that the government’s EU withdrawal bill breached the Aarhus convention, which requires public consultation on any new environmental law.

Most of the UK’s environmental laws derive from or interact with EU law, and Friends of the Earth (FoE) has raised concerns that the bill gives ministers “unique and wide-ranging powers” to amend or delete EU-derived environmental law without public consultation, if ministers consider it appropriate.

According to Defra, “over 1,100 core pieces of directly applicable EU legislation and national implementing legislation” fall within the department’s remit.

The “polluter pays” principle and the precautionary principle could both be affected, as could the public’s ability to challenge changes to environmental laws.

William Rundle, lawyer for Friends of the Earth, said: “The government said Brexit was about taking back control, yet it has ignored the views of the UK people in taking it forwards. There has been no consultation on what the withdrawal bill could mean for the environment and environmental legal protections, or what is the best way forwards.

“The Aarhus convention requires effective consultation when new laws are being prepared that can significantly affect the environment, such as the EU withdrawal bill. This would have allowed environmental issues to be debated and understood, but also built democratic accountability and public confidence.

“The current approach by government in conducting Brexit fails to do this; they didn’t even try. Nobody thought Brexit would be easy, but the government cannot ignore its legal obligations, or the views of the people.”

According to the Aarhus convention’s three pillars, information relating to environmental legislation must be provided by public authorities “in a timely and transparent manner”, and the public must be allowed to participate in the development of new laws at an early stage of their preparation. The third pillar is public access to justice, should a party violate or fail to adhere to environmental law or the convention’s principles.

The government may have breached the convention in two ways, FoE says: by failing to set out a consistent legal framework to allow public participation in the preparation of new environmental legislation (article 3), and by not giving the public an opportunity to comment on the bill before it was presented to parliament to be made into law (article 8). FoE says the government failed to consult with the public, and by calling a snap election, any possible engagement with the bill’s white paper was prevented.

In a letter to Friends of the Earth, the Aarhus convention compliance committee says: “the committee has, on a preliminary basis, determined the communicant’s allegation concerning the preparation of the draft ‘great repeal bill’ and the alleged lack of a clear, transparent and consistent framework to implement article 8 … to be admissible”.

Michael Mason, associate professor at the London School of Economics, says the government remains legally bound by the Aarhus convention after withdrawal from the EU, and by abolishing laws relating to Aarhus provisions the UK would be in breach of the treaty.

He says: “The UK would not be able to cherry-pick provisions in the convention: the UK is either fully in or would have to pull out from the treaty. To stay in, the UK government will have to retain all EU-derived law implementing Aarhus obligations.

“A withdrawal from the Aarhus convention would be disastrous for UK environmental policy.”

A House of Lords report calls the EU withdrawal bill a “bill of the first order in terms of law-making powers being granted to ministers”. It says “this bill is expected to generate another 800 to 1,000 statutory instruments in the near future.”

The bill does not require that current environmental standards are maintained after Brexit, nor does it contain a general requirement that the public should be consulted on potentially significant changes to environmental legislation. It does not require ministers to replace the existing European commission complaints procedure on breaches of EU-derived environmental law, which is currently available to UK citizens free of charge. The UK government could still include a requirement for public consultation, however.

In February 2017, campaigners won a case against the Ministry of Justice over proposed changes to cost protection orders that could have made legal challenges to government over environmental issues too financially risky to pursue. A UN committee at the time criticised the government for failing to meet its legal obligations on access to justice under the Aarhus convention.

A government spokesperson said: “The purpose of the withdrawal bill is to provide a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU – it is an essential bill in the national interest. While we can’t comment on proceedings, we believe we have complied with all of the relevant obligations in developing this crucial legislation and remain committed to maintaining the highest environmental standards. We will be submitting our full response in due course.”

The government now has until 5 June to provide its written response to the complaint. The committee will then decide whether the UK government is in breach of its obligations.