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BREXIT

Brexit: What changes for Brits in Sweden now?

After more than three years of delays and limbo, the UK has left the EU. Here's a look at some of the questions that might be on your mind.

Brexit: What changes for Brits in Sweden now?
A member of protocol removes the UK's flag from the atrium of the Europa building in Brussels. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP

Why is January 31st important?

This is the date that the UK exited the European Union. While other Brexit deadline days have come and gone due to delay after delay, this one actually happened.

That's because there was both an agreement with the EU and a parliamentary majority for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the agreement was passed by the UK and European parliaments. So the UK left the EU at midnight (11pm GMT) on January 31st under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

So what changes after January 31st?

When the UK left the EU at midnight under the Withdrawal Agreement, in practical terms for British people living in Sweden, not a lot changed straight away.

At that time all UK citizens who do not have dual nationality lost their status as EU citizens, but a transition period has begun, during which they will largely continue their lives in the EU as they have done previously.

There was no paperwork or permit that needed to be completed before this in order to remain in Sweden during the transition period, but there may be things to do to prepare for the end of the transition, which we'll explain below.

What do Brits need to do now?

The transition period will give people time to sort out their status, and it's best to start preparing as soon as possible.

All Brits should try to get as much information as possible about their post-Brexit residency rights. The framework of the Withdrawal Agreement gives anyone who is legally resident in Sweden before the end of the transition period the right to stay.

But being legally resident is not the same as simply living in Sweden; for example, as EU citizens, Brits are currently able to move to Sweden as a job-seeker for up to six months in total. After those six months were up, they would no longer meet the requirements to be legally resident in Sweden (unless they had met residency requirements in another way, for example by moving in with a Swedish or EU partner).


Photo: Lars Pedersen/TT

So anyone who has not yet done so should make sure they are in Sweden's population register if possible, by applying for a personnummer. And for Brits who are employed in Sweden, it may be worth speaking to your company's HR department to clarify your position.

There is no way to apply for a residence permit as a Brit in Sweden (there are some exceptions if you are moving to join a partner in Sweden) until the UK actually leaves the EU, and it's not yet clear how this process will work in Sweden.

What we do know is that Brits who have spent five years legally resident in Sweden will earn the right to permanent residence, while those with less time accrued by the end of the transition period will be allowed to remain in Sweden under the same conditions as today until they are eligible for permanent residency.

The Swedish government hasn't announced a timeline or an explanation of the process, but it will be an application rather than a registration, and will either be free or cost no more than applications for similar documents (such as a passport or ID card).

It might well make sense to start getting paperwork in order so that the process will be as smooth as possible. That means collecting things like tax returns, employment certificates, tenancy or mortgage agreements, and other documents that can be used as proof of legal residence in Sweden. Brits can continue living in Sweden while their application is in process.

Brits resident in Sweden by the end of December 2020 will have six months from that date to submit their applications for permanent residency. In other words, the application deadline will be June 30th, 2021.

What about my driving licence?

Rules on driving licences will remain unchanged until December 2020, under the Withdrawal Agreement. That means people with valid UK licences can continue driving in Sweden and those with valid Swedish licences can drive in the UK.

The Swedish Transport Agency told The Local: “According to current rules the UK driving licence is valid in Sweden as long as it is valid in the UK, and both residents and non-residents of Sweden can use it for driving. There is no time limit when a Swedish resident must exchange it.”

It is not possible to register a non-UK address on a UK driving licence, but the DVLA has confirmed to The Local that licence holders are not required to update their address after moving overseas in order for it to retain validity. 

How long does the transition period last?

The transition period is currently set to end on December 31st, 2020. That's just 11 months, even though it was originally intended as a two-year period for the UK and the EU to negotiate their future trading agreement, due to repeated Brexit delays.

This is also the time for people living in Sweden, or hoping to, to get their future plans sorted. It is likely to become harder for Brits to move to Sweden once the UK is out of the EU, but those who move during the transition period can move under current EU freedom of movement rules. 

There is an option to extend the transition period up to a maximum of two years (so until December 31st, 2022, at the latest) but that would need to be agreed by June 2020. Trade experts say making a deal in just 11 months will be extremely difficult, but British PM Johnson is adamant that he will not ask for an extension.

Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

What happens at the end of the transition period?

At the end of the transition period, whether that does turn out to be December 31st or some future date, the UK will begin trading with the EU on new terms – either under a deal agreed during the transition period or under WTO rules if no deal has been reached by then.

For UK nationals, this will also be when their freedom of movement ends.

This would also be the time when changes will be made to the requirements for British people hoping to move to Sweden. It's not currently clear whether these would be the same as the existing requirements for third country citizens, but if so, that would require Brits to go through the process of applying for a residence permit before being able to move.

The current advice from the Swedish Migration Agency is: “The Swedish government has not yet made a decision about what will happen after the transitional period. If the government does not decide to make specific arrangements for Britons, then as a British citizen the general rule will be that you must obtain a residence and/or work permit in order to be allowed to reside and/or work in Sweden.”

For those Brits who are currently living in Sweden, or who move before the end of the transition period, there should not be many changes to their lives in Sweden once this period ends. Brits in Sweden will continue to enjoy reciprocal healthcare, pensions will be uprated, and cross-border workers will retain the right to live in one country and work in another, for example.

The big thing is that Brits will need a residence permit in order to stay in Sweden once the transition period ends.

Some key things to look out for are that Brits would lose their rights if they spend time away from Sweden in the future – even after gaining permanent residence. If you, as a British citizen, plan to leave Sweden for up to two years, you can do this and retain your permanent residence permit if you inform the Migration Agency of your plans before you leave. If you want to live abroad for longer than this – or if you fail to inform the Migration Agency of your move, even if it's two years or less – your right of residence may be withdrawn.

We hope you found this article useful. If you have further questions about life in Sweden after Brexit, let us know.

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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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