London (CNN)The number of British residents applying for Irish passports has almost doubled since the Brexit referendum, new figures show.
British applications for Irish passports almost double as Brexit looms
Negotiations over the UK's scheduled March 2019 departure from the European Union (EU) are complex and ongoing, but its citizens are likely to lose their current rights to move freely through the bloc's 27 other member countries.
As a result many people are seeking to acquire a second citizenship within the bloc.
A large proportion have been looking to the Republic of Ireland and that number is continuing to rise, according to Neale Richmond, chairman of the Brexit committee in the Irish senate.
There were nearly 45,000 applications in the first half of 2018. The number of applications submitted in all of 2015 -- prior to the referendum -- was almost the same.
Richmond said the figures were released to him by the Irish Embassy in London and proved the trend -- which began as soon as 52% of the British electorate voted to leave the EU -- is showing "no sign of ... abating."
In a statement Richmond said: "Since the people of the UK voted, narrowly, to leave the EU in 2016; we have seen a continuing rise in the number of applications for Irish passports in the UK."
People born to Irish parents or grandparents are entitled to apply for a passport, which will allow them to easily work, live and travel across Europe.
Richmond said in the statement: "At least 10% of the UK's population, not including Northern Ireland, are estimated to qualify for an Irish passport and in light of Brexit; many including a number of my own family members are staking their claim to an Irish passport."
A total of 46,229 applications were made to the embassy in 2015, which was "consistent with the annual average up to then," according to Richmond. But that all changed after the June 2016 vote.
"In 2016, the year of the referendum, this figure rose to 63,453 before increasing further to a whopping 80,752 in 2017," Richmond said.
"Figures for the first half of 2018 show the number of applications received by the Embassy in London is already at 44,962. Embassy officials predict that based on this, 2018 will be the busiest year so far for Irish passport applications in the UK."
He added: "While many in the UK are concerned with the looming disaster of Brexit, we must seize the positives from this new wave of people reconnecting with their Irish heritage, our post Brexit UK-Irish relations can be built on a strong, connected, diaspora."
This surge comes as Caroline Nokes, the UK's immigration minister, told Parliament that the prospects of Britons being delayed while traveling in Europe after Brexit is "not unrealistic."
Addressing the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, she said: "Of course it's feasible that there could be delays for people traveling through EU airports.
"The prospect of them ending up in rest of the world queues at some major airports across the continent is not unrealistic."