‘My Swedish friends and I talk about moving to Scotland’

The fallout from the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU continues, and one group that will be affected significantly is EU nationals living in Britain. The Local spoke to Swedes in the UK about Brexit, and its potential impact on their future plans.

'My Swedish friends and I talk about moving to Scotland'
Moving further north is one post-Brexit option touted by a UK-based Swede The Local spoke to. Photo: Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/TT Hasse Holmberg/TT

“Honestly, we’ve been talking about moving to Scotland,” London-based Nicklas says. The Swede, who works in the travel industry in London, isn’t joking. The uncertain atmosphere in the wake of the Brexit vote has left many of his compatriots in the British capital considering their options, he claims, and a trip north is one option being touted.

“I've spoken with many Swedish and Scandinavian friends, and we’re all rooting for Scotland to leave the UK and join the EU,” he adds. “It could be a new frontier for business and innovation. We’ve talked about that. Why not move up a couple of hours and continue what we’re doing, but in another accent?”

Concerned about how commenting on Brexit may impact his employment prospects in the UK, Nicklas does not want to provide his full name. He says the victory for the Leave campaign has changed his opinion of the country he lives in.

“I now feel like people here don’t plan for the long term,” he notes. “Now nobody knows what will happen. Will we be kicked out? Will we have to apply for a visa?”

“I know friends who have British partners and were looking to buy property, but now nobody knows if we’re even allowed to be here in a few years.”

Nicklas was shocked when he saw the results of the referendum on Friday morning, but one Swede who was less surprised was engineer Aldus, who also does not want to provide his full name.

“I had mentally prepared myself for it. I wasn’t surprised at all if I’m completely honest,” the London resident says.

“I’m quite indifferent. Even though right now it’s very emotional, a lot of people are confusing emotions with what is really happening. I don’t see a lot changing in the long run. Immigration won’t change, people will still want to come to the UK, people will still want to go to Europe from the UK, and they will still want to do business with the country.”

Aldus explains that his laid-back reaction was a rare one among his Swedish friends in the UK, however.

“Only one Swedish person I know felt the same as me. Calm, let’s take a cautious approach. Others have been very angry, very scared. But they’re not going to be deported. It’ll take a few years to come into effect.”

One thing the engineer does think that Brexit could have a negative impact on is the price of his property in the UK.

“I have real estate in the UK, so I’m perhaps a bit worried about what may happen to house values,” he explains. “But in general I think my investment in the UK will be alright. Not great, but alright”.

Investment is also a big question for Swedish dentist Sara, who like Nicklas and Aldus, does not want to provide her full name. She says that the result of last Thursday’s referendum has put her plans to open a business in the UK on ice.

“Myself and my professor, who isn’t English by birth, were toying with the idea of setting up a practice together, investing to open a private practice. But now that’s completely shelved. We all fear a recession and don’t know how it will go,” she says.

Sara says that the UK’s decision to leave the EU left her shocked, and for EU nationals she knows, has created a feeling that they aren’t wanted in the country.

“It’s a mixture of disbelief, incredulity, and surreal sensations,” she recounts. “All the nurses and the majority of the dentists in our practice are non-UK passport holders, so there is a lot of disappointment. And a feeling that our hosts don’t really want us here.”

For Axel Lindman, who will graduate from Durham University this week before moving to London, that feeling of not being welcome was also prevalent.

“I think I was less surprised than my British friends, but my initial emotion was still disbelief. Then sadness and anger. It was the first time I didn’t feel welcome in the UK,” he says.

The Swede will soon start a job in London as a consultant, but says his future in the UK now looks a lot more uncertain than it did before.

“We’ll see how it plays out. I can tell you one thing, the result has made me less keen to stay in England. The US, Germany, or even back home to Sweden looks more appealing than before,” he concludes.

For members


EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.