‘You feel like you’re in a no man’s land’: Brits in Sweden still have unanswered Brexit questions

'You feel like you're in a no man's land': Brits in Sweden still have unanswered Brexit questions
The panel made up of Ambassador Judith Gough and representatives from the Justice Ministry, Tax Agency, Prime Minister's Office, Migration Agency, Social Security Agency, and Brits in Sweden. Photo: C
In a brief interview with The Local, the British ambassador to Sweden advised Brits to prepare any paperwork as soon as possible ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit, while many Brits we spoke to had unanswered questions following a townhall meeting hosted by the embassy.
Speaking to The Local after the event, British ambassador to Sweden Judith Gough emphasized that the approach of a possible no-deal Brexit was “an unprecedented set of circumstances” but praised Swedish government agencies for their work in preparing for the possibility.

Proposals for residence permits for Brits following a no-deal Brexit were announced last week, despite previous statements from Swedish ministers which suggested there would be no further measures. In August, Sweden's EU Minister told The Local “we have done what we need to do for those who are in Sweden now”, and referred to the one-year grace period offered by the Swedish government.
On the subject of the permits, Gough said “this has been an ongoing process for quite some time, obviously we work very closely together. It's been a very productive relationship and I see no reason why that wouldn't continue.”
While the ambassador was unable to address specifics of individual situations, saying these questions should be directed to the relevant Swedish authorities, she stressed two bits of advice for all affected Brits.
“The advice I'd give to British citizens is make any applications that you need to make as early as possible, so that you have clarity as soon as possible and secondly, give as much information as you possibly can,” she said. “Provide as much information as you possibly can to demonstrate that you have been in Sweden for a certain period of time [when applying for a residence permit].”
Gough added that many questions “can be easily answered if people follow the instructions” found on the UK government website as well as those of Swedish government agencies.

Asked if any of the questions raised in the townhall event came as a surprise, she noted “my job is never to be surprised”.
“It's very difficult to talk in terms of priorities because we understand we're dealing with people's personal lives, and everything is a personal priority for each individual,” she said. “We will take away the questions that weren't able to be answered and we will talk with our Swedish colleagues as to how we address them and give clarity where perhaps we weren't able to.”
Several British citizens The Local spoke to after the event still had questions about their personal situations.
Deborah Sanders said she had attended all the townhall events put on by the embassy and that she felt grateful to the authorities for their involvement in the events. “I'm feeling better about the whole thing because I've managed to get Swedish citizenship. But here we are 20-something days away from the end, and we're still not quite sure what will happen,” she said, referring to the October 31st Brexit deadline.

Sanders' main concerns related to whether her Swedish-British family would be able to return to the UK in the future if necessary, and what would happen to her British pension.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, still, around what this means for individuals long-term,” she explained. “I asked a question about pensions, and my worries are: Will it be uprated? Will it be the pension as I've earned it? Should I still be paying into my British pension scheme as well?”

“Concrete answers are somewhat lacking. You need to plan for your future. I'm an only child and both my parents are remarried. If I ever needed to go back to the UK to take care of them, my [Swedish] husband would be classed as a third-country national [from the end of March 2022] and it could take a couple of years to get back into the country. I might not have that time, so do I split my family for a few years? Will there be extra requirements?” she wondered.

Graeme Fletcher (left) and Steven Groves. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Friends Steven Groves and Graeme Fletcher, like Sanders, have lived in Sweden long-term and built lives and families here, but they also had concerns. 

Fletcher said he felt the meeting was well-organized, saying: “Last time there were a lot more feelings involved, this time there were a lot of facts. The Swedish authorities seem to have a plan, even if they can't say straight away what will happen, and they seem to have made it as easy as possible for everybody.”

But Groves noted: “At the end of the day we don't know what's going to happen until we get a hard Brexit or an easy Brexit. One of the things I noticed today was that they couldn't answer all the questions fully, talking about driving licences and things like that – that's normal stuff. I've been here 30 years, I'm married, and have permanent residency, so my question is what happens then, when your foundations are in Sweden.”

The pair agreed that after decades in Sweden, returning to the UK was out of the question. Both had decided to apply for Swedish citizenship after the Brexit referendum, never having considered taking the step previously.

“I've been here 24 years now, and I'm not married so that was a major concern – what happens in the future if you lose your job for example,” explained Groves.

“Now I've applied for citizenship which I think is really important. It never really crosses your mind beforehand. But when they had the Brexit vote in England, we weren't allowed to vote because we'd lived abroad for more than eight years. At the same time there were the general elections in Sweden, which we weren't allowed to vote in because we're not Swedish citizens. That's when I realized, I can't decide the future of my children. You really do feel like you're in no man's land.”

For those who have lived in Sweden long enough to be eligible for citizenship, the key questions around Brexit include the impact on cross-cultural families and pensions. But those without citizenship will need to apply for residence permits, meaning further questions not only about the eligibility criteria for those permits and how to prove these are fulfilled, but also about the impact of Brexit on job-hunting, travel, third-country partners, and more.

Molly and Erin, both originally from London and resident in Sweden for under five years, said they were still confused about how the residency period would be calculated.

“It still feels very confusing. Our main question is, what does 'residency' actually mean?” Molly said after the event. “Is it the date you arrive or the date you get a personnummer?”

Erin agreed, adding: “It's becoming real for us now, we've been living in hope for so long that [a no-deal Brexit] might not even happen.”

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