Brit travels entire EU on Brexit fact-finding tour

On June 23rd the United Kingdom will take to the polls and finally decide whether they want to stay as a member of the European Union or leave and go it alone.

Brit travels entire EU on Brexit fact-finding tour
The Local Austria/Maddy French

Working out what’s best for the British people is a complicated task, not helped by the lack of impartial information available about the pros and cons of EU membership.

One frustrated British woman decided to avoid the rhetoric altogether and go straight to the source. Between March and the referendum day in June, Rebecca Sumner Smith, 35, is attempting to travel to every one of the other 27 EU states to find out what life is like for British migrants on the continent.

Along the way she will be blogging on the website We The EU about the people she meets and trying to get to the bottom of what it means to be British in Europe. The Local Austria caught up with Rebecca – who until recently has been living in Berlin – in Vienna and asked her why she started the project.

“I was a British citizen working in Germany and it had been very easy to move there so if you had asked me ‘are you pro-EU’ I would have said ‘yes’,” she says. “But I was really aware if someone put a gun to my head and asked ‘why?’, I couldn’t answer. I thought this is a huge decision. I need to definitely learn more. I’ve probably just taken that to the extreme a bit.”

With Greece and the Czech Republic already done, Rebecca is now heading to eastern Europe before making her way to the Mediterranean and then northern Europe, with a few stops in the UK and Germany in-between. At the end of the trip, she hopes to present something that compares other EU countries with the UK on topics such the economy and migration, as well as offering a perspective on Europe from the Brits who probably understand it best.

“Everybody has an opinion but everybody knows they don’t know enough about it. What I’m really interested in is ‘OK you live in a European country, what did you think about when you moved?’,” she explains.

Rebecca meeting British Chaplain Ricky Yates in Prague. Photo:

Although there is a tendency in the UK to picture British 'expats' on the continent as sun-kissed retirees living out their years in the Costa del Sol, the reality is much more diverse. “The variety has really surprised me,” she says, adding that she’s already met people from across the political spectrum.

What a lot of Brits abroad do have in common, however, is the tendency not to vote in national elections. In the months leading up to the last UK general election in May 2015, only around 22,000 of the 5.5 million eligible Brits living abroad were signed up to vote, according to the UK's Electoral Commission. With much more at stake in the referendum for those living on the continent, it is hoped that turnout in June will be higher. Those who have lived outside the UK for longer than 15 years are banned from taking part, however, and Rebecca is finding many are feeling disenfranchised.

“In lots of ways people who live outside the UK are going to be more tangibly affected, they have more immediate fear as to what will happen to their position,” she says. “Those people who can’t vote, they say ‘I’m not sure I should vote in a general election but this issue does affect me’. If your citizenship is British and you have no right to vote in national elections in your adoptive country, you are sort of a bit lost, starting to feel a bit stateless.”

With three months to go, Rebecca still has time to make up her mind on the UK and Europe, although the more people she meets, the more she realises that it does come down to a feeling of the heart.

“I started with that feeling in my heart that I’m a European and then I thought no that’s not sufficient, I need to know the facts, and now I’ve sort of come full circle again,” she explains.

“I’ve got a lot more to find out but now I feel there is this huge bit of it which is ideological and that’s OK. We can’t avoid the fact that we are an island and this is a test of where we want to fall, how we see ourselves and our identity. In a way that’s kind of OK.”

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Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

People who have more than one citizenship often hold multiple passports, so what does this mean for crossing borders? Here's what you should know.

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

For many readers of The Local, gaining citizenship of the country where they live helps them to feel more settled – but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long ‘non EU’ queue when coming back into the Schengen zone.

But this week the problems associated with travelling while holding dual citizenship came to light, leaving many people wondering what they should know when they are entering different countries.

Put simply – which passport should you use? And do you have to carry both with you?

Financial Times journalist Chris Giles tweeted that the UK Border Force “detained” his dual-national daughter while she was travelling from France into the UK with her German passport – and not her British one. 

He went on to say that UK border guards released his daughter. According to Giles, the border staff said she should have had both passports with her “and asked why she was travelling on her German one”.

The rules on dual-nationality have not changed, but now that the UK is not in the EU, there are strict rules on non-Brits who enter the country (and vice-versa) which has made it trickier for travel.

For instance, UK nationals receive a stamp in their passport when entering Schengen member states because they are only allowed to stay up to 90 days within an 180 period (unless they have a visa or residency card).

READ ALSO: Brexit: EU asks border police not to stamp passports of British residents 

People coming from the EU to the UK can generally visit as a tourist for up to six months without a visa – but are not allowed to carry out any work while there.

So which passport should you show?

The first thing to be aware of is there are no specific rules on travelling with more than one passport. 

Travellers can choose to use whichever passport they prefer when going to a country. 

But one thing to note is that it’s worth using the passport that is best suited to your destination when travelling there. Each country has its own set of immigration and visa rules that you’ll need to research closely.

It could be that one passport is better suited for your trip – and you may be able to avoid visa requirements.  

READ ALSO: How powerful is the German passport?

In the case of the UK, many people are still getting to grips with the different rules that apply because it’s not in the EU anymore.

A question submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in September 2021 provided some insight into this issue. 

The question from Labour’s Paul Blomfield asked what steps the UK government “is taking to enable dual UK and EU citizens to travel to the UK on an EU member state passport without having to further prove their UK citizenship?”

The Conservatives Kevin Foster said: “Border Force Officers examine all arriving passengers to establish whether they are British citizens, whether they require leave to enter or if they are exempt from immigration control.

“Where the passenger claims to be British, but does not hold any evidence of British citizenship, the officer will conduct all relevant checks to satisfy themselves the passenger is British.

Border control at Hamburg airport.

Border control at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“When dual nationals who are eligible to use e-gates travel to the UK, they will enter via the e-gates without being examined by an immigration officer.

“We recommend all dual nationals, including EU citizens, travel on their British passport or with evidence or their British citizenship to minimise any potential delay at the border or when commencing their journey.”

The Local contacted the UK Home Office to ask if there was any official advice. 

A spokesman said: “An individual can present whichever passport they desire to enter the UK, however they will be subject to the entry requirements associated with the nationality of the passport they present.”

They said anyone who is looking for more information should check out guidance on entering the UK and on dual nationality.

In short, if you present a German passport on entry to the UK you will be treated the same as any other German citizen – which can include being quizzed about your reasons for visiting the UK – as border guards have no way of knowing that you are a dual-national. 

Do I have to carry both passports?

There’s no rule requiring you to have both passports, but you won’t get the benefits of a British passport (entry into the UK without questions) if you don’t show it.

Likewise if you are a French-British dual national and you enter France on your UK passport, you will need to use the non-EU queue and may have your passport stamped.

Should I think about anything else?

An important thing to remember is that if you apply for a visa and register your passport details, the same passport has to be used to enter the country. 

It could also make sense to travel with both passports, just in case. 

However, note that some countries – like the US – require that US nationals use a US passport to enter and leave the States even if they are dual nationals. 

In general, it’s best to use the same passport you entered a country with to depart.

The rules and systems are different depending on the country. But many countries require people to show their passport when leaving – and they will either stamp or scan the passport – this is how authorities know that a foreign visitor hasn’t overstayed their time in the country. 

So if your passport is checked as you leave the UK, you should show the one you arrived with, just to ensure there is a record of you arriving and leaving.

However as you enter France/Germany/other EU destination, you can show your EU passport in order to maximise the travel benefits of freedom of movement.