Sweden's EU ambassador Lars Danielsson warned time was running out for Britain, with less than two months to go to the deadline for the country to leave the EU, but told The Local he was holding out hope.
“I'm paid to be an optimist,” he said. “I believe that it is possible to avoid a Brexit without a deal, but of course the risk has increased.”
“But you would still think that there ought to be some kind of common sense that lets all parties involved sit down and talk. Because they haven't, for a very long time.”
The Local met Danielsson in Stockholm just a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to prorogue parliament – a highly controversial move seen by its critics as a way of pushing through a no-deal Brexit through without members of parliament blocking the UK's exit.
Lars Danielsson. Photo: Kristian Pohl/Regeringskansliet
Danielsson, 66, a seasoned diplomat and civil servant from Halmstad in southern Sweden, has previously served as Sweden's consul general to Hong Kong and Macau, and ambassador to South Korea and Germany, before taking up the position as permanent representative of Sweden to the EU in 2016.
Asked whether he was surprised by the Conservative prime minister's move to suspend parliament, he first stressed “it is not for me to review”, then added, smiling: “But I have seen Boris Johnson as a foreign minister in the EU's foreign affairs council, so I have stopped being surprised.”
“He is a very colourful politician.”
The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said this week he was “not optimistic” about the UK's chances of avoiding a no-deal, reiterating that the union would not be willing to renegotiate the so-called Irish backstop – a mechanism intended to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Political leaders fear that the return to a hard border could threaten the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after years of armed conflict.
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged lawmakers to back him. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson faced a potential rebellion in parliament, where MPs were set to debate an emergency motion later on Tuesday to allow the opposition and rebel Tories to help prevent a no-deal.
“There is a certain surprise that the process in the United Kingdom has been such that the British government when negotiating did not ensure that they were able to get that which was negotiated through parliament,” said Danielsson when asked if he and his colleagues were surprised by the political turmoil in recent years.
“We have learned to appreciate and respect the British public system, and I think many are a little bit disappointed and are wondering what happened. But there is also a lot of tolerance (among EU leaders and civil servants) for the fact that domestic politics sometimes play a big part, that's life.”
Sweden has said it is working together with the EU commission and with other EU member states to minimise the economic impact of Britain leaving without a deal. Last week Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson and EU Minister Hans Dahlgren insisted the Nordic country was “well-prepared” to face a no-deal Brexit.
But the situation for Brits in Sweden after an initial one-year grace period immediately following Brexit remains unclear, with campaign groups calling on the Swedish government to clarify the rules.