‘As a proud Swede and Brit, I say no to isolation’

'As a proud Swede and Brit, I say no to isolation'
Prime ministers David Cameron and Stefan Löfven at a bilateral meeting in Riga last year. Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/TT
I'm proud to be British and Swedish and worry that UK isolationism will damage both my homes, says journalist Jasmine Andersson.

When I was about five years old, my Dad would spend his evenings poring over a tome of tiny text. A Swede born in Gothenburg, he was studying for his British citizenship exams. Even though he was incredibly proud of his heritage, he saw the exam as a necessary evil in order to give the family security.

Now the EU referendum is about to take place, I am no longer concerned about the rights to my British identity – I care about the rights to my Swedish one.

Britain may be an island, but there are 2.9 million people like me who share their homes between two EU countries. They, like me, are of dual heritage, and identify with both of the countries they come from. My British and Swedish identities are in constant conversation, forming a series of events, memories and values, and they are inseparable from each other. 

I am half-Swedish. I share my father’s love of anything coated in lingonberry, and remember how I felt when I took a pilgrimage to visit my granddad’s grave in Gothenburg for the first time. When I visit Sweden, I am just visiting another country I call home. It’s personal, it’s inextricable, and leaving the EU places me in a position where I am supposed to see it as a baffling puzzle to be solved. 

I saw myself moving to Sweden in my later years, joining my sister and the rest of my family to embrace a country that has such a progressive attitude towards women, the family, education, and its treatment of the elderly. Yet thanks to Brexit, it might not happen. With Europe Minister David Lidington saying that “everything we take for granted about access to the single market will be put into disrepute”, my rights to live in my other country are dubiously put on hold.

Like most EU workers in the UK, I never needed to obtain my Swedish passport because the EU gave me the same rights to travel, work and study in Sweden as one of its citizens. Although current expats — like my sister, who lives and works in Stockholm – are protected, I would need to move to Sweden within the next fortnight to ensure that I could stay under the wing of EU law.

People like my sister face the worry of ‘legal limbo’, uncertain of their rights to live, work, travel and access healthcare as expats. Her company could end up paying extortionate sponsorship fees to keep her in the country, and she would fork out hundreds of pounds to pay for a frustratingly unnecessary and anachronistic citizenship test. 

Growing concerns also indicate that Sweden faces the loss of billions in trade, and its key voting partner in the EU. According to Pew Research, nine out of ten people surveyed in Sweden believe that the UK leaving would hurt the EU, and more than half believe that Sweden would be affected as a consequence. As firm non-euro friends, Swedes and the UK are said to have voted 89% the same way on EU policy.

If Sweden lost one of its closest allies, the country could be placed in an equally precarious position, suffering economic collateral damage at the hands of the Vote Leave stalwarts.

I am proud of the places where I come from, and I don’t want to see either of them suffer under a misguided notion of isolation. EU policy allowed me to live a life true to my identity, and I don’t want to be placed in the impossible position of having to choose.

Britain and Sweden are countries built on the wealth of cultural diversity. With 1.3 million British expats declared unable to vote in the referendum, Britain is ignoring the people who have benefited from EU policy the most. I wonder how people like them, and people like me will suffer when they watch their continent play while they sit on the substitutes bench.

As ‘foreignness’ is hijacked by a racist agenda, I consider myself oddly lucky to be part of a cultural heritage that is still fondly regarded in Britain. If we leave the EU, I wonder how long it will take for those politics of hate to push people out.

Jasmine Andersson is a freelance journalist who has written about politics and youth culture for publications including The Guardian and The Independent.