SINGAPORE — The father of Singapore-born footballer Harry Birtwistle has come out to say that his son has never wanted to renounce his citizenship nor intentionally skip national service to realise his ambition of becoming an English Premier League (EPL) player.
However, due to the revised points-based work-permit requirements on non-British citizens following Brexit, it has become essential for Harry to retain his British passport and citizenship to pursue his professional football career.
John Birtwistle, 65, released a statement on Friday evening (29 October), following a Ministry of Defence (Mindef) clarification earlier in the day that Harry is abroad without a valid exit permit and has applied to renounce his Singapore citizenship.
The younger Birtwistle, 17, had signed a professional football contract with EPL club Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday, making him the first local-born Singaporean to have done so.
"From the beginning of 2017, I asked Mindef for deferment of national service, if necessary, pending renunciation of his Singapore citizenship when Harry turns 21 years old," John said in his statement.
"Retaining his UK passport and British citizenship are essential to pursue a professional football career in the EPL, given the revised points-based work permit stringent requirements applicable post-Brexit on all non-UK citizens.
"However, Harry himself has never wanted to renounce his citizenship nor intentionally skip national service."
Still has deep roots with Singapore
John said that Harry – born in Singapore on 1 December 2003 – still has deep roots with Singapore, as his mother, two young siblings, extended family and friends are all living in the city-state. He has also long dreamt to play for the Singapore national football team.
"As a father, I have only wanted the best for my son and I think many parents will understand," he added.
"(I) chose to relocate Harry to my homeland England to chase his football dream and also to get to know his family there. But Singapore is where Harry’s heart is, where he was born and raised during those formative early years.
"Harry is making a big personal sacrifice, and the outcomes and achievements to date may well have justified the decisions made."
Harry, whose mother is Singaporean Chinese, was spotted by Wolves academy staff when he was eight years old during a Wolves international training camp in Singapore.
Despite his young age, he has broken into Wolves' U-23 side and also started training with the first team, alongside seasoned professionals such as Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore.
John added that he is grateful for the support from the Singapore public towards his son in the past few days. He added that he is not disappointed with criticisms of his son's actions.
"Singapore was where (Harry) was born and raised, and he is proud to be from there. I dearly hope that we can focus on the football and together get behind Harry and wish him every success in his life," he said in the statement.
"Life is short and bittersweet for us all. Perhaps it’s wise to focus on the positives which can hopefully influence others to strive for their goals and live their dream."
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