Brexit voters took benefits of EU citizenship for granted

British voters took the benefits of EU citizenship for granted when they backed Brexit, the prime minister of Luxembourg has said.

In a speech at the European Parliament Xavier Bettel said the fact so many UK citizens were adopting EU citizenship to keep the benefits of membership was “proof” of the huge benefits of the union to its members.

The outspoken national leader also slammed populists in the UK and Italy for misunderstanding the concept of “sovereignty”, which he claimed was in fact best protected by a united Europe.

Many of the 1.3 million British people living abroad in other EU countries have sought foreign citizenship since the EU referendum in a bid to head-off the uncertainty caused by the decision to leave the bloc, with a 165 per cent increase recorded in the year of the referendum alone, according to Eurostat.

“Populist forces are calling for sole national sovereignty to ensure the wellbeing of Europe. But it’s the European Union that protects more than ever our sovereignty in a globalised world,” Mr Bettel said in his address to the Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

“The European Union provides added value to European citizens, in countless instances improving their daily lives. However, one of the greatest challenges the union faces today is the fact that these advantages resulting from a country’s membership of the union are simply taken for granted.

“It is therefore not a coincidence that so many UK citizens living in my country have been applying for Luxembourg citizenship since the Brexit referendum. Many others are apparently doing the same in other member states.

“These applications for citizenship by British citizens are proof of the huge added value of the public goods and services created by the European Union which these citizens don’t want to abandon: most obviously the four freedoms.”

But the country’s PM warned against turning on voters themselves, adding: “Brexit is really a blow for all of us and same goes to Italy. To then condemn voters, to criticise voters before they’ve made a mistake would be a second mistake. The British people have chosen Brexit and I’m sorry about that but I have to respect it.”

Early proposals backed by the European Parliament to give UK citizens the ability to opt-in to citizenship of the bloc after Britain had left appear to have died a death as Brexit negotiations become increasingly acrimonious. A senior EU official last week accused Britain of adopting a “fantasy” negotiating strategy which tried to keep all the benefits of EU membership but without any of the obligations. UK government sources hit back, accusing the European Commission trying to “insult” the UK; Downing Street also decried the negative briefing.

The Independent reported at the weekend that the British government had quietly hiked fees for UK citizens to renounce their nationality, with a family of three now forced to pay over £1,000 to the Home Office on top of any other fees they might need to pay to their new country.