'We don't know how Brexit will affect our time in Sweden'

The Local Sweden
The Local Sweden - [email protected]
'We don't know how Brexit will affect our time in Sweden'
Sweden-based Brit Sarah Campbell, left. Photo: Private & AP Photo/Tim Ireland

One month after the Brexit referendum Sarah Campbell, a British reader based in Uppsala, pens a love letter to her European Union.


One month on from the Brexit referendum, and it would not be at all true to say that the dust had settled. In contrast, it is hard to make out the shape of the irrevocably changed United Kingdom through the dust clouds kicked up by the result of the June 23rd vote, and British citizens from both messy sides of the Brexit camp are still reeling in the aftermath of the flurry of tragicomic political changes which have ensued.

Yet my response to Brexit is not political, and I'm not ashamed to say it. During the campaigning period, in which I was as eager a keyboard warrior as any, flying my online flag for remain, I kept abreast of the headlines, followed the unfolding stories, shared the odd article and seethingly nurtured my disdain for the increasingly incredible claims made by some factions of the leave campaign.

However, for the most part, my hashtags didn't come from a place of great political knowledge or insight, they were more personal than that, borne from my love for the concept of a united Europe.

I was, and remain, fully invested in the very notion of the European Union. I am proud to say that I am fully sold on the idea that EU citizens can freely travel to live, work and study in, experience and contribute to a whole family of countries.

From childhoods shyly exchanging francs for fruit in French markets, my whispered 'merci' being rewarded with an extra handful of cherries, to blissful teenage summer evenings in the Bavarian countryside with schoolmates and our German Exchange partners, now lifelong friends, growing up European held adventures and opportunities that have shaped who I am today.

Student days spent juggling 'year abroad' linguistics studies with waitressing (with disastrous inefficiency) in what claimed to be Germany's oldest coffee house, occasionally taking time off for weekend train trips from Munich to Rome, to Grenoble, to wherever we fancied, turned into adult life raising a young family in beautiful Sweden.

My love for the European Union is based simply on the love I have for travel, for language, for shared experiences, for intercultural exchange, for friendships forged and sustained despite geographical distance. A love for the ideals of the EU.

To me, this love forms the basis of a pro-EU argument every bit as valid as one based on economic criteria. It might be simple, it might even be simplistic, or idealistic, but I see no shame in that. These opportunities for travel are, of course, not lost forever as the United Kingdom stumbles out of the EU. However, they are made more difficult, both logistically and because in the minds of young people, they are now framed against the alarmingly fast paced rise in overt xenophobia in the UK; they are pitted against apparently compelling but, in my view, ultimately misleading and vacuous statements about 'regaining' our country. Such revelling in isolation can only be damaging.

Heavily pregnant and already experiencing sleepless nights, I woke many times in the night between June 23rd and 24th, drowsily checking the results, more and more despondently each time, before finally waking, bereft, to a changed world. Bereft, that emotional and linguistic cousin of bereaved, seemed the right word to describe my feelings on realizing that something precious was lost, and that depsite not only my best efforts, but those of many millions of compatriots, there was nothing which could be done to get it back.

I was angry, disbelieving and most pertinently of all, powerless, and as the Facebook feed began to go into overdrive, it was clear I wasn't the only one who felt this way.

And as the events of the last month have unfolded, and the United Kingdom has stumbled from one ludicrous and implausible headline to the next, those feelings of anger and powerlessness have not subsided.

As Swedish friends and strangers alike ask us our feelings about Brexit (the fuel station employees we rented a car from sympathized with us and hoped that Brexit would not be the first in a three-part disaster comprising the rise to power of both Trump in the US and the Sweden Democrats on home soil), we find ourselves in equal measures mystified and embarrassed about the turn of events, blustering apologies and feebly trying to reassure anyone who asks that we did not choose this, and we cannot understand it.

As often as we are asked our views on Brexit, we are asked how it is likely to affect our time in Sweden, and it is in response to this that the emotional response is more heightened than ever. We don't know what will happen, we feel vulnerable. We feel like we bought into the spirit of the EU, fought to save it, only to have our experience of living as EU citizens jeopardized.

I cannot report how leave campaigners felt on waking that morning and hearing that their side had won; I can only describe the surprising depth of my own emotions that morning, and I am not ashamed to say that I felt grief for the loss of a dream and an ideal, as the UK woke up with a collective hangover from the night before that would take much, much more than a pint of squash and a roast dinner to ease.

Sarah Campbell, a teacher and educational consultant currently on maternity leave, is a British citizen based in Uppsala. She has lived in Sweden since 2014.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also