Swedish companies in UK: ‘Brexit will be bad for business’

A new survey shows that the bulk of Swedish companies operating in the UK do not believe a Brexit deal will be reached by the March, 2019 deadline and nearly half of them think Brexit will have a negative impact on future UK investments.

Swedish companies in UK: 'Brexit will be bad for business'
File photo: TT

The survey, conducted by market research group Ipsos MORI in collaboration with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and 12 other foreign chambers in the UK, revealed a fairly bleak picture of foreign companies’ outlook on the UK’s business climate in relation to the country’s planned divorce from the European Union.

Some 78 percent of the 112 Swedish companies that took part in the survey said  they are either “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that the UK will see a positive outcome by the March, 2019, deadline for its Brexit deal with the EU.

Around half also said that they believe Brexit will have a negative impact on investments in the country in the next five to ten years. A third of them, however, said they thought it would have no impact on future investments in the UK whatsoever.

An array of major Swedish companies, including flatpack furniture giant Ikea and fashion retailer H&M, operate in the UK. Contacted by The Local, H&M declined to comment on its outlook on Brexit and its UK operations.

Ikea, which opened up its first UK store 30 years ago in the the northwestern town of Warrington has already said that the Brexit vote has affected its UK business, with a weakening pound forcing it to bump up its prices.

“It is difficult at the moment. Currency is one of the biggest things that impacts a business like ours,” Ikea’s UK boss, Gillian Drakeford, told the Press Association last month. “We want to keep the product at a good price for the consumer, because we know that wallets are thinner, but we've had slight price increases in line with inflation,” he said.

In October, Ikea joined a growing number of international businesses appealing to the UK government for a post-Brexit “transition period”, calling also for a deal to protect businesses operating in the country from uncertainty in the event of a “no deal” scenario. 

An Ikea spokesperson told The Local on Friday that although it is too early to say how a Brexit will affect companies operating in the UK, “we will continue to watch the debates closely to analyse the potential impacts that leaving the EU could have on our business, supply chain, co-workers and customers.”

“This year marks our 30th anniversary in the UK and our ambitious growth plans remain, including building a strong brand, investing to improve the shopping experience for customers and to become more accessible to people across the country”.

In May last year, prior to the Brexit vote, Ipsos MORI conducted a survey in which Swedish companies operating in the UK said that the main issues they would like to see addressed in the Brexit negotiations include a solution on trade deals, access to the internal UK market as well as access to workers from abroad.

 “It’s not surprising that at the top of the agenda of the Brexit negotiations for Swedish business is smooth access to the EU market both for goods and services, but also good access to both high and low-skilled work force and regulatory alignment with EU,” Ulla Nilsson, the Managing Director of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, said.

In February, the UK's Brexit minister David Davis met Sweden's EU affairs and trade minister Ann Linde in Stockholm, where he told Swedish and international media: “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.”

And British Prime Minister Theresa May penned an article for Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in which she outlined the importance of “maximum freedom” in trade between the two countries.

But such reassurances have not done much to quell concern among Swedish businesses that trade with the UK will become harder and more expensive once the UK leaves the bloc. A reportcommissioned by Sweden's National Board of Trade and published in March predicted a worsening in EU-UK trade, “regardless of which alternative is the result of the exit process”.

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”