This is how many people become British citizens in Lancashire last year

Hundreds of people in Lancashire became British citizens last year after swearing allegiance to the Queen at special citizenship ceremonies.

The events, organised by Lancashire County Council, are the final step in the process to full citizenship and being able to obtain a British passport.

But with ceremonies indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, migrant rights campaigners say applicants across the country are stuck "in limbo”.

Home Office figures show 583 people attended citizenship ceremonies in Lancashire in 2019.

This was a rise of four per cent on the year before, bringing the total for the last decade to around 8,200.

A total of 1.2m immigrants have gained citizenship over the last decade, although the number fell by 23 per cent to 113,301, between 2010 and 2019.

Participants are asked to make an oath of allegiance to the Queen and pledge to respect the rights, freedoms and laws of the UK.

They are then presented with a certificate of British citizenship and a welcome pack.

Jill Rutter, director of strategy at the thinktank British Future, said citizenship is important for integration and a shared sense of identity.

She said: "Citizenship ceremonies do really matter to new Britons. They mark the end of a long and expensive process, and the start of an enhanced feeling of belonging to the country people have chosen to call home.

"We should restart citizenship ceremonies as soon as it is safe to do so.”

An independent inquiry into citizenship policy, coordinated by the group, is also paused due to Covid-19.

In the longer term, British Future want the UK to review its approach to citizenship, by reducing the “highest fees in the Western world” and cutting red tape.

Last year, 7,073 people attended ceremonies in the North West – among 110,000 across the UK.

A further 3,000 did so at a British consulate abroad.

Maike Bohn, co-founder of think tank the3million, which represents the rights of EU citizens, said the pandemic has caused “huge delays” for anyone wishing to become British – with appointments to provide details at biometric centres also suspended.

Romanian national Alexandra Bulat, a project manager at the think tank, says she has paid more than £1,300 in application fees for her British citizenship but is still waiting for her ceremony to take place.

She said: “It all feels like you’re still in limbo because the process is still not done and dusted.

“The main reason a lot of EU citizens apply for citizenship is to feel more secure, because they don’t feel secure with the Settlement Scheme.

“Being a British citizen means you can vote and be a fuller part of society by participating in political processes.

“I think it’s quite important for people to feel that they have a say, whether that’s in the taxes that we pay or the direction the country is going.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Like applicants, we know how much citizenship ceremonies mean to people and we are actively looking at alternative, safe ways to reinstate such important occasions.”