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BREXIT

‘Our identity is Welsh first, European second, and British is way down the line’: Lessons learned after one year in Sweden

When Nathan Lloyd and Tom Jones moved to Malmö one year ago, they brought with them 68 boxes and a dream of being European. Their first year in Sweden has brought both despair and inspiration, they tell The Local.

'Our identity is Welsh first, European second, and British is way down the line': Lessons learned after one year in Sweden
Nathan Lloyd, left, and Tom Jones in Malmö. Photo: Viktoriia Zhuhan/The Local

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The couple decided to leave the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, as Lloyd – who had been active in the Remain campaign – had always wanted to be European and was worried that he might now lose that option. 

He had long been mesmerized by Scandinavian design and so they spent the evenings searching for jobs in Sweden and Denmark, as far east as Täby near Stockholm and as far west as Esbjerg in Denmark.

When Lund in southern Sweden offered Jones a teaching job in mid-2017, the couple hit the road. This meant renting out the house they owned in Swansea, and moving into an apartment in Malmö. 

But the Swedish landlords soon decided to sell that apartment forcing them to find a new place to stay, and around the same time, their Welsh tenant decided to move out, leaving the couple in a kind of limbo.

“We didn't just go abroad, we arrived with 68 boxes of stuff. We weren't naïve enough to think we were safe, but we didn't expect we'd have to go through a major move again,” Jones recalls.

“That was the point where we were at our lowest financially and mentally. Such a logistical nightmare,” Jones says now. While he had a stable income, Lloyd was hunting for jobs in food retail, catering, and kitchens. Even though he had experience, he would often lose to local candidates.

One of the catering events he worked at during that period was so poorly organized that Jones had to come and help Lloyd out. One hour before the dinner the chef asked Jones to count how many plates there were. At that point Lloyd broke down into a panic attack – and the couple decided to slow down their busy lives.

It took “many long, snowy walks” in the forests around Malmö, a tightening of belts so that they could focus only on activities that inspired them, and helping pick each other up from moments of despair, but eventually they managed to carve out a more permanent, relaxed and happy home for themselves in Sweden.

As for the living situation, they ended up moving in with a person they had bumped into at a Christmas party and stayed in touch with. Now they emphasize that it's important to maintain contact with people you meet.


Lloyd and Jones with friends at Malmö Pride. Photo: Private

Going back to the UK, however, was never an option they considered. The uncertainty following the vote to leave the EU reaffirmed the couple's decision to leave the country for good.

“I feel disheartened and sorry for the people who want to remain European but who are stuck in the UK because of a family or a job. I feel very fortunate that we were able to get out,” says Lloyd. As the couple watches the Brexit deadline approaching, they think their life would be “a mess” if they had stayed.

For them, it was a question of identity. The EU had partially funded the new campus at the Swansea University that Lloyd used to attend, and subsidizes many other projects across Wales.

It's these things that make Lloyd proud of being European, and that's what he fears the Wales will lose after Brexit. “Our identity is Welsh first, European second, and British is way down the line,” he says.

After moving to Sweden, the couple speak more Welsh with each other than they used to at home.

A majority of Welsh voters backed Brexit in the 2016 vote, but Jones and Lloyd believe people voted for something that would be a disadvantage to them. They also felt disappointed by what they saw as the growing influence of the right wing.

“We have no desire to go back home. It's hard to stay in a place where you can do nothing about it,” Jones sums up.

Jones adds that Britain is becoming increasingly nationalistic these days, and that's an identity they don't want to associate themselves with. 

Although Swedes have a reputation for being reserved, the couple found ways to build a community in their new country.

“We were like: we're just going to talk to people. And they started talking to us. We've met a lot of friends in a year. We've managed to put down roots,” says Jones.

As for Lloyd, he started interacting with local businesses on social media months before the move to Sweden was finalized. Eventually, this led to a connection with the social media manager of monthly breakfast lecture series Creative Mornings, Jenny, who invited him for a fika once he had arrived in Malmö. After that, things snowballed and she was the person who introduced Lloyd to many of the people he has worked with since then.

Jones, on the other hand, joined the Simply Draw it Big agency where he develops his passion for illustrating. He says he didn't have much time and inspiration for the hobby while teaching at a class of 31 children in a troubled area in Wales, but work at a Swedish school leaves him with some energy for creativity.

These activities don't always bring profit, Lloyd explains – as of now, Jones is the main provider and Lloyd stays busy for around 20 hours a week. Getting a permanent job hasn't yet worked out for him, so he's following a more entrepreneurial and freelance approach. But he is positive: eventually, the networking will pay off.

Are you a Brit living in Sweden? E-mail The Local to tell your story.

Member comments

  1. This is exactly what I’m hoping to do: move to Sweden because of Brexit. Great to read this about a couple who have already made the move and hear a little about how it has gone for them. I wonder how many other Brits are planning to move in hopes of retaining their EU citizenship.

  2. I was gone from the UK to Sweden within a month after the Brexit vote, though it was in my long term plans anyway. The vote was a complete shock and two years on, I am very happy that I left when I did and very happy to be here in this lovely place. I only wish I had been able to leave sooner.

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For members

BREXIT

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.”

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