‘Brexit is like a hangover that won’t go away’

'Brexit is like a hangover that won't go away'
The process of confirming residence status in Sweden after Brexit is one of the things that is still unclear. File photo: Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash
For British residents in Sweden, it remains unclear what the impact of Brexit will be in the long-term, although citizens' rights are addressed in the Withdrawal Agreement. What is now clear is that the UK is on track to leave the EU on January 31st, so with just days to go, we asked Brits in Sweden how they felt about the approaching deadline and what questions they had about Brexit.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the rights of most Brits in Sweden (and those who move before the end of the transition period) will be unaffected by Brexit.

There are some exceptions, notably the fact that Brits will no longer enjoy freedom of movement, which might make it harder for those job-hunting within the EU, for example.

And there is still a lot that remains unclear, years after the UK originally voted to leave.

“The uncertainty has gone on for too long. Settled Status has been running for a year and this has allowed much needed scrutiny,” said David Milstead, referring to the UK's programme for EU citizens already resident in the UK. 

Meanwhile, there is little information about exactly how Brits in Sweden will go about securing their status.

In an update last week, the British Embassy in Stockholm said: “If you want to guarantee your rights beyond the end of the implementation period (31 December 2020), you and your family may need to apply for a residence status to confirm that you are already resident in Sweden.”

“The application will be short, simple and either free of charge, or cost no more than applying for a similar document, for example a national identity card or passport. You will have until at least 30 June 2021 to submit your application. We will share information on how to apply in our Living in guides when it is available,” the update stated.  

The lack of certainty and concrete guarantees, after years of limbo, has caused frustration for many Brits across Europe.

“Others have had to put their lives on hold. Do you apply for planning permission and build that extension? Do you buy that car? Do you move to a bigger house? Do you decorate? Do you get a family pet? Do you have a baby?” said Garry Jones, a British citizen living in Stockholm.

After more than 40 years in Sweden, Michael Eyre noted how tough it was to predict any long-term impact on a general or individual level: “We'll probably see both the upside and downside of Brexit as the years roll by.”

But he described his own mood in relation to Brexit as “disappointed, disillusioned, disgusted.” 

“The EU needs the UK as much as vice-versa. Sadly this is not to be,” he said.


British and European Union flags fly over Britain's parliament in London. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Michael was one of many British residents who didn't have the right to vote in the Brexit referendum due to the time he had lived outside the country, and he regrets that Brits in the EU weren't given a vote.

A more recent arrival, Emma Grossmith, moved to Sweden in 2014. Although she hasn't changed her plans because of Brexit, she says that she would likely not have made the move if she had anticipated Brexit becoming a reality.

The freedom to move within the EU for work, and mutual recognition of qualifications were a “safety blanket” that for her made relocation possible. Now, she is one of many Brits prompted by the Brexit vote to apply for dual nationality.

“I've always been Irish, but it took Brexit to make me get my Irish passport. I never bothered with one before. As a Northern Irish person who grew up in the Troubles I know all too well where petty tribalism leads and I'll always be grateful for my dual nationality,” Grossmith said.

“As a British/Irish person who lived for a long time in Scotland before coming to Sweden, I'm very angry that half the UK is being dragged out of the European Union against its will,” she added.

Half-Swedish Erik Sandberg, who grew up spending summer holidays in Stockholm before making the full-time move to Scandinavia in 2017, is in a similar position. He hasn't yet applied for Swedish citizenship, but plans to do so soon, saying: “I feel closer to Europeans than I do to Brits, which is weird given technically I am a Brit.”

“I'm feeling fairly indifferent to the fact Brexit is happening this week. It's been such a long and emotionally draining process for both sides of the argument that it feels like a bit of an anti-climax,” he commented.

For others, January 31st will be a symbolic moment, and dozens of members of the Brits in Sweden Facebook group based in Stockholm have signed up to a meetup at the capital's British pub on the evening itself.

For Michael Heron, the idea of watching the news on Brexit news felt like “attending the funeral of a close relative through video conferencing”.

He moved to Sweden only a few months before Brexit Day, after being offered a job in Gothenburg.

“But I'd be lying if I said it was the only reason,” he added.

“The reason I was looking for jobs in places like Sweden in the first place was because Brexit seems like the greatest self-inflicted injury any country will ever inflict upon itself. Leaving the EU threatens so much, and it blows my mind that politicians and the general population, barring the hard-core resistance, are so blasé about the whole thing. It's like the entire country, fittingly, has Stockholm Syndrome.”

“I lived with a kind of low-grade depression in the lead-up to Brexit until I came here, and now it's like a hangover that just will not go away,” said Heron.


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