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In this article I explore Brexit as a moment of redefinition of national and EU citizenship, including citizenship by descent. I focus on the cases of British citizens in the UK and Belgium who have explored obtaining the Irish or the Italian citizenship, as well as on the tactics to ensure citizenship by descent to their children enacted by other British interviewees, and by EU27 citizens in the UK (that is, citizens of the EU member states that remained after the exit of the UK). I show that the decisions to pursue naturalisation are relational — i.e. influenced by others, and in some cases done to benefit others, in particular one’s children — but not necessarily collective, as in some cases there are disagreements among the family members involved, as well as disinterest from some of the beneficiaries. In relation to previous literature on the pursuit of descent-based citizenship, which often focused on static analyses of global inequality, I further discuss how the Brexit context shows that such pursuit is temporally contextual (Sredanovic, 2022). More generally, the reasons for naturalisation in the Brexit context include pragmatism, both individual and family-focused, as well as identity-based reasons, with the latter more based on relations with parents and others than on national identification.
The literature on naturalisation decisions and on the uses of citizenship has been characterised by dichotomies between identification and instrumentality, as well as between individualism and family-based decisions…


‪By removing rights from British citizens and EU27 citizens in the UK, Brexit has redefined the value of national citizenships. This article shows the experiences of British citizens living in Belgium and the UK who considered obtaining Irish or Italian citizenship by descent, as well as British and EU27 citizens living in Belgium and the UK who adopted tactics to ensure the transmission of specific citizenships to their children. The interviewees were on the defensive and aimed to limit their loss of rights. This article argues that the decisions to pursue citizenship should be understood as relational, as different kinds of relations influence the decision, and as the decision is often taken for the benefit of relatives, especially children. At the same time, the process is not necessarily collective, as in some cases there are instances of non-collaboration or disinterest on the part of some of the relatives involved.‪

  • citizenship
  • naturalisation
  • Brexit
  • family ties
  • tactics
  • descent
Djordje Sredanovic
Sociologist, Groupe de Recherche sur les relations Ethniques, les Migrations et l’Égalité, Université Libre de Bruxelles, GERME, CP 124, 50 avenue F.D. Roosevelt, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgique; sredanovic.djordje[at]
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