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.

Corbyn convenes ‘away day’ to discuss Brexit policy shift

Labour leader under pressure to back permanent membership of customs union

Jeremy Corbyn has called senior figures to an ‘away day’ to discuss a possible change of direction on Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn has called senior figures to an ‘away day’ to discuss a possible change of direction on Brexit.
Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Jeremy Corbyn has called key members of his shadow cabinet to an “away day” to re-examine the party’s policy and strategy on Brexit amid growing frustration in Labour ranks that it is failing to exploit mounting Tory turmoil over Europe.

Party sources confirmed to the Observer that the meeting, scheduled for early February, would look at adapting and developing Labour’s approach during “phase two” of the Brexit process.

The gathering – which will be seen as a response to unrest and the threat of rebellions by dozens of Labour MPs – will be held at a location “away from Westminster”, and will involve senior shadow cabinet members in policy areas most affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.

The news suggests Labour may soon announce a major shift in policy that would see it back permanent membership of some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit – opening a potentially decisive dividing line with Theresa’s May’s increasingly fractured government.

A senior figure aware of the meeting said: “There are several among those who will attend who want the party to move on the single market and customs union. But Jeremy is a lifelong eurosceptic and there is still opposition to doing so.

“The greatest pressure for change is from those who insist we must back permanent membership of a customs union with the EU after Brexit, not just a fudge position of backing it during a transition and leaving open what happens after, which we have at present.”

Those who have been asked to attend are understood to include members of the shadow cabinet Brexit subcommittee. They include the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, the shadow home secretary Emily Thornberry, and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. Shadow ministers responsible for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also attend.

With Theresa May’s government increasingly split over Brexit, and the EU withdrawal bill heading into the House of Lords on Tuesday, where it is expected to be savaged by pro-Remain peers of all parties as well as crossbenchers, a growing number of Labour MPs and peers are pressing the leadership to open up clearer dividing lines with the Tories.

Trouble is also brewing for the Labour leadership on other Brexit bills, including one covering trade, when legislation returns to the Commons next month. Several amendments backing customs union and single membership are expected to secure the backing of at least 60 Labour MPs. Pro-Remain Labour MP Chris Leslie said: “There is lot of pressure. The time for a fudged approach is over. Unless we change in the next few weeks we will find it is too late. We will end up with a hard Brexit of the kind Jacob Rees-Mogg is demanding.”

An Opinium poll for the Observer last weekend found that potential Labour supporters now back permanent membership of the single market and customs union by a margin of more than four to one.

Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat peers, as well some crossbenchers, believe that the government could be defeated on a series of amendments that will be tabled by pro-Remain peers on the customs union and single market if Labour changes position to back permanent membership.

While a move to back permanent membership of some form of customs union now looks the most likely shift, Labour campaigners for Corbyn to endorse UK inclusion in the single market believe he remains opposed.

Last summer Labour announced it would support the UK staying a full member of both the single market and customs union during a post-Brexit transition deal of two to four years. This would mean continuing to accept EU rules on free movement of people and workers, being subject to European court of justice rulings, and paying into the EU budget during the transition.

After the transition was over Labour said it would try to negotiate as close an economic and trading relationship as possible with the EU that would deliver the “exact same benefits” as the UK currently enjoys. Permanent membership of the single market and a customs union was not ruled out.

Theresa May then moved Tory policy in a similar direction in her Florence speech in September when she effectively conceded that the UK would remain inside the EU’s economic union, accepting EU rules including free movement in return, during a two-year transition. As result the Tory and Labour positions have become closely aligned.

David Davis says EU cannot ‘cherrypick’ terms of free trade deal

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has turned the European Union’s negotiating mantra against the bloc to warn that it cannot “cherrypick” the terms of a free trade deal.

Britain wants “the full sweep of economic cooperation” and financial services must not be excluded from any agreement, Davis said.

The EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has repeatedly insisted that the UK cannot choose to keep the best elements of membership when it quits the bloc.

He has warned that no trade agreement exists that would include financial services and the City of London must inevitably face curbs on access.

But Davis has hit back, claiming that a deal that took some areas of the current economic relationship but not others would be “cherrypicking”.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, he wrote: “I do not believe the strength of this cooperation needs to change because we are leaving the European Union.

“Many of these principles can be applied to services trade too. Given the strength and breadth of the pan-European economic relationship, a deal that took in some areas of our economic relationship but not others would be, in the favoured phrase of EU diplomats, cherrypicking.”

The government is under pressure to provide more clarity for business as the new phase of exit talks begin.

EU leaders in the rest of the bloc remained united during the first stage of negotiations, but the bond could be tested as the EU considers what kind of trading terms are on offer to the UK – an important export market for many member states.