The best of British

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It’s the end of another emotional citizenship ceremony at Blackpool Town Hall. The tears flow and hugging and hand-shaking continues in the mayoral parlour as the UK’s eight latest citizens celebrate acceptance with that most British of traditions – a nice cup of tea.

All have just sworn the oath of allegiance to the Queen, and promised to be loyal and faithful citizens and observe the laws of their adopted land.

The ceremonies, held on the final Friday of each month, mark the end of a long and emotional journey for most – and the beginning of a new life in a land they have come to love.

Nationally, 90,000 adult applicants are successful each year in their bid to become British. Most will have lived legally in the country for at least five years to establish residency (three years, if married to a British citizen).

Many will have also passed a Life in the UK test, answering 24 questions about aspects of life in Britain.

But how many British-born citizens would flunk the test? Armed with questions from Life in the UK: A Journey to Citizenship we put 10 locals and visitors to the test outside Blackpool Town Hall, before and after the citizenship ceremony.

Only two, Linda Turford and Jennifer Round, both of Blackpool, correctly answered nine of 10 questions we put to them.

The rest flunked between six and (in one case) all 10 questions. How would they fare with 14 more?

“It makes you realise how tough it must be to pass,” admits Jennifer, 29. “Good luck to them.”

Inside the town hall, the ceremony is over and one young woman, accompanied by her boyfriend, bolts for the exit, clutching the certificate which makes her UK citizenship official.

Neither wishes to join the rest for a cuppa, or pose for pictures with the naval officer who has turned up to wish them well at the solemn, yet uplifting ceremony.

Next stop, they say, is the passport office at Liverpool, once all the paperwork of citizenship has been duly processed.

Others congratulate her on becoming a citizen.

But the 22-year-old student, who does not wish to be identified, protests: “I’m British through and through. I was born here, at Victoria Hospital, but I’ve had to fight to establish my nation identity. It’s a farce.”

The girl has battled bureaucracy since her mother left home. A loophole in the system meant she needed her mother’s birth certificate in order to establish herself as British, in order to get a passport.

She lives in south Fylde with her father, estranged from her mum. Mark Menzies, Conservative MP for Fylde, stepped in to help after learning of her passport plight.

The MP praises the tenacity of the young woman. He explains: “She has been in the most difficult of circumstances, and has been incredibly tenacious. Applying for citizenship seemed the only answer.”

The woman adds: “I was able to show the UK Border Agency my birth certificate and medical records, but was given refugee status. It has taken four years and a lot of money to get me this far. But it’s worth it. I now have the bit of paper that shows I am officially British. It means I can get a passport and go on holiday with my boyfriend. Prior to this, I couldn’t even go on a day trip to France.”

The case is a comparative rarity, but not a one-off. Resort registrar Dawn Haslam, while unwilling to comment on an individual case, admits: “I’ve heard of this happening, but it’s a first for me. I’m delighted it’s finally worked out for her. These ceremonies are always moving.”

Dawn guides those present through “formal and public” declarations of “true allegiance to HM the Queen Elizabeth II”, to respect the rights and freedoms of the land, and “observe the laws and faithfully fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.”

The eight present are from Thailand, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, China and Poland.

Lamyai Turner, from Thailand, married BAE Systems worker Stuart Turner six years ago. “He’s a good man and I like living here,” Lamyai adds. “I wanted to become a UK citizen. I like the people, and the country is beautiful – I love York and the Lake District. I even like fish and chips!”

Royal Navy commander David Pickthall, Chief of Staff for Navy Command in Northern England, shakes hands with Huixi Tan, from China, who is “very happy to be British.” Cdr Pickthall concludes: “It’s not easy as many think to become a UK citizen, and a lot of people have taken a long time to get here, so this is a real occasion. I am proud and humbled to be part of it.

Best of British to them all.”

jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette