UK and Sweden agree ‘everybody should be able to stay’ after Brexit: EU minister

Sweden's EU affairs and trade minister Ann Linde insists that the UK and Sweden have the "same vision" when it comes to making sure that Swedes living in the UK and Brits living in Sweden have the right to stay where they are after Brexit.

UK and Sweden agree 'everybody should be able to stay' after Brexit: EU minister
Sweden's EU affairs and trade minister Ann Linde and the UK's Brexit secretary David Davis. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Linde met Britain’s Brexit Secretary David Davis in Stockholm on Tuesday, following on from a previous meeting in London last January. And the British MP insisted that securing the rights of Brits living in EU nations like Sweden is a priority for the UK government in its forthcoming negotiations over leaving the union.

“We are determined to get a good outcome for EU citizens in Britain and Brits in the EU, to protect the rights of British citizens and EU nation citizens and get an answer quickly,” he told the media at the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s office in central Stockholm.

“We would have liked to have an answer already, but it will be the very first thing on the negotiation agenda once they start. We understand people feel uncertain,” he added.

Linde said that it is important people who had “used their rights as EU citizens don't become a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations”, referring to EU citizens currently living in the UK and vice versa.

She added that both the UK and Sweden appear to be on the same page when it comes to finding a solution for them, but stopped short of backing the fast-tracking of Brits applying for Swedish citizenship, saying that is a decision to be made at EU level.

“Just like the British parliament voted no to that proposal in their parliament, we think we have to take this together in the negotiations between the EU and the UK and see it in a comprehensive way,” Linde told The Local.

“But, we of course want it to be one of the first things dealt with in negotiations.”

The Swedish EU affairs minister said there have been discussions on finding solutions for the around 100,000 Swedes living in the UK and 30,000 Brits in Sweden, but explained that there are still important details which need to be hammered out once negotiations start.

“We have the same vision that it should be possible for everybody to stay, but there are many details. It’s not so easy,” she noted.

“What does it mean to stay when you’re outside the EU? When you're inside the EU, you have all the rights. You don't have to have specifics. But when you’re outside the EU, you have to say for example: will Swedes get the same pension rights? Will they get the same social rights, labour benefits they have while being a member of the EU? That has to be detailed out, of course.”

Davis meanwhile stressed that Britain wants to have a broad trade agreement which would reduce the impact of leaving the EU on businesses trading between Britain and Sweden, but conceded that it will not be identical to the ones currently in place through EU membership.

“We want to have a very broad ranging free trade arrangement so Swedish companies selling to Britain, and British companies selling to Sweden will have the same sorts of freedoms they have today – they won’t be identical of course,” he noted.

The British politician also added that a successful EU is to the UK’s benefit as it is “incredibly important that the big, powerful neighbour on our doorstep is successful economically and socially and is a good friend”.

Davis said the UK government expects to trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty and formally launch the Brexit process by “the end of March, sometime during March”.

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.