The Bundestag has ensured that Brits in Germany can still apply for citizenship even after Brexit. But opposition politicians warn that customs officials are not ready for the impending bureaucratic nightmare.
On Thursday, the German parliament passed a new law in preparation for Britain's impending withdrawal from the European Union. The Brexit transition legislation was passed unanimously by almost all political parties in the Bundestag — only the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) voted against the plan.
The law, which would come into force when Britain formally leaves the EU and the so-called transitional phase begins, is supposed to create clarity for people likely to be affected by Brexit, especially British nationals living in Germany and Germans living in the UK.
Perhaps most relevant for the almost 120,000 British people registered in Germany, the measure means that UK citizens would still be able to apply for citizenship during the transitional phase, which is expected to last until the end of 2020, with the date of their applications taken into special consideration. After that, however, the obstacles to becoming German will be significantly greater.
Authorities have recorded a massive increase in the number of British people keen to take German citizenship since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Similarly, Germans who hope to gain British citizenship would not be forced to give up their nationality if they submit their applications before the end of the transitional phase. In most cases, German law does not allow dual citizenship for people from countries outside of the European Union.
Opening the Bundestag's hourlong debate, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the government was "intensifying its plans for the case of an unregulated Brexit," though he expressed his hope that an orderly Brexit could still be achieved despite the political chaos in London following the defeat in Parliament of Theresa May's proposed deal.
"We will do everything in the next days and weeks to bring about Britain's exit, not without a deal, but with a deal," Maas said, adding that further negotiations remain possible. Nor did he rule out an extension of the March 29 deadline for Brexit.
Maas added a metaphor that was repeated by many speakers in the hour of debate that followed: "The time for games is over — the ball is in Britain's court."
Several German lawmakers used the debate to criticize the European Union's handling of the negotiations. Both the AfD's Martin Hebner and the Left party's Dieter Dehm accused the European Union of making an example of the UK to discourage other member states from leaving. Dehm called for new negotiations and for more flexibility from Brussels. The AfD's Harald Weyel even suggested that the European Union's long-term strategy was to do away with nation-states altogether.
Hard Brexit ever more likely
Franziska Brantner, the Greens' spokeswoman for Europe policy, said the bloc must remain open to suggestions from Britain that could keep the country in the EU Customs Union, but added that any proposals that might disadvantage citizens of member states or their businesses in the UK should be dismissed.
Planning for Brexit
Germany's government has already begun preparing for the transitional phase, publishing information in English on its websites that covers tax laws, the residency status of British citizens, transporting goods in and out of the United Kingdom, educational grants, and travel.
As things stand, the United Kingdom will acquire the status of a "third country" in Germany on March 30, which will have major bureaucratic repercussions in a number of areas that, according to the Free Democrats (FDP), the government is not properly prepared for.
"A potential hard Brexit will cause the customs procedures to stutter even more and increase the waiting times," the FDP's Sandra Weeser told the Bundestag on Thursday.
Weeser called on Germany's government to recruit more officials to help the owners of small to medium-sized business and improve the IT infrastructure of the customs offices. In response, the governing parties, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, both insisted in response that the issues were already being addressed.