Since the UK’s general election last year, I have felt increasingly numb about the inevitable Brexit day that has now crept up on us. Up until that fateful night last December, I held on to the slightest glimmer of hope that Britain might be sensible enough to turn around this terrible decision.
But my hopes were dashed. And the numbness came out of necessity. Brexit was going to happen, and as a Brit living in Sweden my practical coping mechanism was to try and forget about the looming disaster and focus instead on my pending citizenship application for the country I now call home.
And after all the waiting, this week lightning struck me, twice. The first strike was the elation of celebrating my recent citizenship approval. Finally. I’m one of the locals now and I no longer need to worry what will happen to me post-Brexit.
My #BecomingSwedish project over the past few months had prepared me well for this moment. I’ve been learning about what Swedes like to eat, watch and read. I’ve travelled from Skåne to Lapland and have met countless Swedes on every stop along the way. I felt like I was as ready as I was ever going to be to call myself Swedish. And then out of the blue, there was my proof. A relatively unceremonial certificate from Migrationsverket, and a little red book that read: Tomas Spragg Nilsson, svensk.
But I didn’t have long to think about my new citizenship before the second strike hit.
On Wednesday I watched the final vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement pass in the European Parliament. And I was overwhelmed with sorrow. Sorrow for what the vote meant for my friends and family back home. Sorrow for what it meant for the nation that I grew up in. And when the MEPs of the house then rose, joined arms and sung a few verses of Auld Lang Syne, it finally broke me. I wept.
Brexit feels immensely personal to me. Amongst the singers, I recognized many friends from my days working in the parliament and I know all too well just how much these people had ploughed their time, love and passion into building a better union. A union the rest of now get to continue enjoying the benefits of.
But I mostly think that this moment touched me because of what the singing symbolized. Despite all the mud thrown from the likes of Johnson and Farage over the years, here were our friends, neighbours and even political adversaries, singing from the same hymn sheet, wishing Britain a dignified au revoir.
So Britain is leaving the EU today and there is nothing I can do about it. It’s heartbreaking, but I need to move forward. I’m a Swede now, and I need to figure out how I feel about that.
Identity is a funny old thing isn’t it? Since leaving the UK I’ve often found myself holding tight things I love most about the UK. I’ve continued to drive my classic Mini Cooper, I’m still tempted to try and talk to strangers on public transport, and I still read Paddington books to my daughter before she goes to sleep.
But when I moved here I made a promise to myself to learn more, explore more and integrate better than than I had in countries I’ve previously lived in. That’s the real reason my #BecomingSwedish project existed.
So do I feel more Swedish now that I’ve got citizenship? Yes and no. I feel like I understand more Swedish jokes, political references and regional accents. But on the other side, I really just feel like a more Swedish version of the person that arrived here three and a bit years ago.
I think I’ll probably always feel like a British Swede or a Swedish Brit. But for today at least, I think I’ll try to put my nationality to one side. Today I am simply European. Today I want to follow the lead of those MEPs who held hands across political divides. I want to reflect on the fact that despite our disagreements from time to time, what binds us together in Europe, is often far greater than what drives us apart.
If Brexit has taught us anything it’s that we shouldn’t take for granted this union we meet in. And perhaps we need to embrace the very Swedish art of compromise a little more in order to protect it. I really do hope that one day soon the Brits will be back at the table. But until that day, we Swedes will leave a light on for them, so that they can find their way back home.