Ellie in Portugal

Another nationality cannot erase my British childhood

– Ellie in Portugal

Prior to the referendum the question of whether to acquire Portuguese citizenship had already crossed my mind, but always as a future possibility. Since the referendum, the question has become more urgent. Rather than be an affirmation of my growing identification with the country and culture and a wish to be a fully active citizen-resident I now find myself worrying more about losing rights.

This insecurity is increased as my partner is Austrian and while also permanent resident of Portugal neither of us have any claim to be here other than the fact that we took advantage of the freedom of movement that the EU guarantees to its citizens and have made our lives here. I do not think that I would apply for Austrian nationality as currently my only ties to the culture and country are through my partner and we have no future plans to move there. We have chosen not to get married and have a de facto union, though we have discussed the issue, and would consider it if it would guarantee my status in the future.

Acquiring a new citizenship would be to formalise the relationship between myself and the country where I am currently considered permanent resident. Thinking about what citizenship is, it is impossible to ignore the fact that although it is a legal status, a transaction and promise outlining the roles duties and obligations that the state and its citizens has, it informs our sense of national identity. It is legally possible to be a citizen of a country and to perform the duties required without identifying strongly to the culture, I would even argue that it would be possible to do so with minimal cultural and linguistic knowledge in some cases.

In many ways I consider myself lucky, as compared to some other countries which do not allow their citizens to hold dual nationalities and require people to give up previously held nationalities. So, it really would be the acquisition of an identity. It does not feel as though it lessens my ties to the UK or lessens the British part of me in any way. The nature of living abroad and being an immigrant, learning a language, the history and culture of the land where you live already creates a space for encounter where the differences and similarities are negotiated daily. Another nationality cannot erase my British childhood, I will continue to write the addresses on envelopes in the wrong place, continue to have words and phrases which come to me first in English and which are hard to translate. Living outside of the UK I have widened my vocabulary, gained new perspectives, learnt new ways of thinking about things and myself. Well, that is how I think about my personal national identity as it comes into focus from the acquisition of a new citizenship.

British law seems to see this in a different light. One of the reasons that I had already considered, and was open to acquiring Portuguese citizenship, was because of the 15 year limit on political participation for non-resident British citizens. I do not like the idea of being excluded from all political decisions, or being represented by a government that I have no influence in choosing. I wonder to myself whether this rule is to stop British citizens who may have developed “split loyalties” from distorting political decisions and ruling of the country or whether it is because the law conceives a deserving citizen as one who is fulfilling financial duties. Political participation is therefore not a duty, rather a privilege. During the run up to the referendum and since then, both logics have been used to justify excluding non-resident Brits from participating in debate and the political process. We are seen to be “corrupted” and I have been accused of no longer being “pure” just from living abroad, speaking a different language. In my opinion this is a problematic view of citizenship as many of those same people would exclude immigrants who are resident in the UK from political participation while also requiring them to be “productive” and contribute economically through taxes and to learn and assimilate the culture.

Another reason to wish to acquire Portuguese nationality stems from the wish to retain my European identity and be part of the European project. While I am critical of aspects of the EU, I have to admit that the values of inclusivity, diversity, exchange and mutual respect and betterment are ones that I admire. Since the referendum and the triggering of Article 50 the UK government has failed to provide us with a clear, positive message of what a future outside of the EU would look like. The Leave campaign and many Leave MPs leant so heavily on populist rhetoric that vilified immigrants, refugees and the hope for a multicultural, dynamic and respectful society that would be responsible in it role within world affairs that these seem to make up the underpinnings of the new “Strong and Stable” Britain that I am expected to want to be a part of. I, like many others reject those values and this supposed idea of Britain. In this respect, I suspect that among my generation have been lucky enough to benefit from the EU projects through subsidies, funding, ERASMUS etc., feel European as well as English and British.

I ask myself what will change with the acquisition of Portuguese citizenship? It will affirm and legally bind my relationship to the country that I consider home, allow me to participate in the democratic processes, carry an ID card (something I wouldn’t want to do in the UK!). A sense of security and identification with the perceived values of the overarching project to which this country belongs and which are currently being celebrated here (Portugal consistently ranks in the top 10 for integration processes of immigrants).

This is also reflected in the application process which requires proofs of language ability, residence and of tax and social security contributions, though the application form is much shorter than the UK forms and the initial fee is €250.

If my application is accepted I will be a Portuguese citizen in my way and I will continue to be British and I will continue to participate in the UK democratic processes as long as I can for a better, UK for everyone.

Ellie is just one of the volunteers to our Citizens’ Panel. To read about the experiences of other Britons living in the EU27 visit our Meet the #britsinEurope feature.