'Flood' of passport enquiries over Brexit


Hundreds of British Jews have enquired about or tried to obtain EU passports following the Brexit referendum.

One synagogue head said she had received a "flood" of requests for assistance in obtaining foreign citizenship, and German, Polish and Portuguese sources have reported a surge of passport applications from the Jewish community.

Around 500 British Jews had taken formal steps towards securing a German passport since the referendum result, compared to a usual annual total of around two dozen, the country's embassy said.

And a Porto-based community organisation reported that while just five British Jews applied for Portuguese citizenship in 2015, roughly 300 had submitted applications since the Brexit vote.

Meanwhile, according to the Polish Embassy in London, of the 670 email enquiries made since June 24, a significant number have been from Jews.

Alison Rosen, executive director of the S&P Sephardi Community, said her organisation had received a "flood" of requests from members of the community looking for official confirmation of their Spanish or Portuguese descent following the referendum.

Descendants of Sephardim forced to convert or leave Portugal in the 16th century have been able to apply for a Portuguese passport since 2015, while Germany's Basic Law of 1949 gave Nazi victims and their progeny the right to dual German nationality.

Jews looking to acquire other European passports have referred to the referendum result as "devastating" and "catastrophic", often adding that they took the step because they feel European.

Hilary Freeman, the JC's agony aunt, has a French partner, Mickael, and is applying for a German passport.

"I went into a depression for a few weeks. All our plans were up in the air. It is not unfeasible that Mickael would be told, 'You can't live here.'

"I've always felt more European than British; my partner is French, but we are now in a position where he has been here for two and a half years and we don't know if he's going to be able to stay."

Ms Freeman's grandparents were German Jewish refugees who came to Britain in 1939, and while she said the opportunity to obtain a passport represented "some kind of compensation after what the Germans did to them", it was a complicated decision. "My mum doesn't like the idea; she's not very happy about it," she added.

Clive Sheldon QC, a lawyer at London firm 11KBW, said the "extremely disappointing" referendum result had led him to make enquiries about securing Polish citizenship through his grandfather.

The 49-year-old father, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb in north-west London, said: "I felt as if I'd been kicked in the stomach, and as if someone very close to me had passed away.

"It took a month to rebalance and reorient myself. My whole worldview of the last 40 years had been torn apart. I had felt we'd always been warm and welcoming towards immigrants, and it shook my perception of that.

"I feel European, I feel connected to the EU, and it's a nice way of reviving a part of my family history that lasted hundreds of years."

Rabbi Walter Rothschild, 62, was born in England but has lived in Berlin since 1998. He said he was in the process of applying for a German passport.

His father fled the Third Reich in 1939, and the family was deprived of their German citizenship two years later.

"I want to be able to continue standing in the queue for 'EU Citizens' at airports," the Progressive minister explained, adding: "The definition of Brexit is 'pulling out too early so that you can screw yourself instead.'

"I think the whole affair displays a catastrophic degree of political leadership compounded by media manipulation and public ignorance and naivety."

Brian Gordon, a Conservative councillor in Edgware who came out in favour of leaving the EU, said: "If it's from fear that Brexit will cause increased antisemitism and reduce work and business prospects here, I believe that's misconceived. Without being complacent, Britain is currently among the least antisemitic of Western countries. There's far more antisemitism and race hatred within the EU itself."

Marc Meyer, director of the Conference of European Rabbis, said British Jews were seeking out other passports to prepare for the worst.

"By being purely British, you could be limiting your options. If something goes wrong, this gives people versatility.People are worried about the economic situation here, and want the opportunity to work and travel in Europe."

Mr Meyer, who is also chair of Hendon United Synagogue, added: "There is something funny about people applying for German nationality, and also for Polish passports. I don't think there are lots of people screaming for Jews to come back to Poland.

"If I became Polish today, the only reason to do so would be that it would be easier than becoming French for Jews. I think these applications follow the pattern of the path of least resistance.

"If you can have two passports, it's a very Jewish thing to want to have them, to keep your options open."

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