Wolves defender Birtwistle's application to renounce his S'pore citizenship rejected

SINGAPORE – Harry Birtwistle, the young Singapore-born footballer who on Wednesday (Oct 27) signed professional terms with English Premier League (EPL) club Wolverhampton Wanderers, is abroad without a valid exit permit and has applied to renounce his citizenship, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Friday (Oct 29).

In response to queries, a Mindef spokesman said that he is a Singapore citizen who had stayed in Singapore and also carried a Singapore passport.

“Mr Birtwistle’s parents applied to renounce his Singapore citizenship,” added the spokesman.

“His applications were rejected as renunciation should not be used as a means to evade NS (national service) duties. In his family’s correspondences with Mindef, they had stated that Birtwistle will not be registering for NS.

“Since then, Mr Birtwistle has failed to register for NS as required. He is also staying overseas without a valid exit permit. Mr Birtwistle has committed offences under the Enlistment Act.”

Birtwistle, whose mother is Singaporean Chinese and whose father is British, was born in Singapore and resided here until he was 13, before moving to England in 2017 to chase his dream of becoming an EPL player. He signed a scholarship with the Wolves shortly after.

The defender, who turns 18 in December, had told The Straits Times in a Zoom interview on Wednesday that he was “open to anything” when it came to the topic of representing Singapore – which would mean he has to give up his British passport and enlist for NS – but was “100 per cent focused” on making the grade at Wolves at present.

This season, Birtwistle has mainly featured for Wolves’ Under-23 team that plays in the Premier League 2, and according to the Wolves website, he has appeared in seven games out of nine this season, playing 499 minutes.

He has also been invited up to train with the Wolves first team “about once or twice a week” since the season began in August, frequently rubbing shoulders with seasoned professionals and internationals.

Coached by Portuguese Bruno Lage, the Wolves are 11th in the 20-team EPL after 10 games.

Birtwistle told ST that he wished to return to the Republic this Christmas, where his mother and siblings live, and that “Singapore’s all I knew”, but Mindef’s announcement now puts a question mark over his plans.

Birtwistle’s situation mirrors that of Ben Davis, another footballer playing professionally in England.

Davis, now 20, was born in Phuket to a Thai mother and an English father and moved to Singapore with his family at the age of five before becoming a citizen four years later.

He went on to represent Singapore at the Under-16 and U-19 levels, and received a call-up to the senior national team but did not take to the pitch.

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Four months after the Lions call-up, he signed professional terms with Fulham, where he had been on a scholarship since July 2017, becoming the first Singaporean to do so with a top-tier English club. The following day, Mindef announced the rejection of his application for long-term deferment from NS.

In February 2019, Mindef confirmed that Davis did not report for NS as required and had thus defaulted on his NS commitments. It added that he is also staying overseas without a valid exit permit. As such, he is liable upon conviction to a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or both.

He later switched his international allegiance to Thailand, and in August signed for English third-tier side Oxford United.

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