Ann Linde, the Swedish minister for EU affairs and trade, said she was shocked by the uncertainty and xenophobia experienced by Swedes in the UK since the referendum.
She said the future of an estimated 100,000 Swedish people in Britain and 30,000 British people in Sweden, had to be urgently dealt with. She said: “This is one of the very most important issues and we have to solve it in a very constructive way in the first part of the negotiations.”
She was speaking in central London following a meeting with Swedish citizens and ahead of a meeting with David Davis, the Brexit secretary. The British government has said it would like to guarantee EU citizens the right to live in the UK but it cannot unless the guarantee is reciprocated by the other 27 member states.
Asked if she could give assurances to British people in Sweden, Linde said that was an EU-wide issue and not something her country could offer unilaterally. “I don’t offer anything. This is part of the EU negotiation that is conducted by the EU commission,” she said. “What I hope is we have a negotiation result where the Swedes who live in Britain can continue to do so and the Brits who stay in Sweden continue to do so.”
Swedish citizens at the Scandinavian Kitchen cafe in central London told her of the anxieties about their future and xenophobic abuse they had experienced since the referendum.
One woman working in the City told how her chief executive had to send an email to all employees to tell them xenophobic behaviour was not acceptable after she was told by a colleague that the country had voted to get people like her to “get out”. Another told her how she felt that she and other Swedes would end up being “collateral damage” in negotiations.
Caroline Brodde, who is studying political economy at King’s College London told her: “Before you came here you had plan A; now you have to have plan B, C and D. “I was always quite sure why I wanted to come here. Now you have to consider a multiple of outcomes, you have to realise that you may not be able to live in London and have to consider, do I live in Berlin or somewhere else?”
She said she didn’t in any way feel threatened, but felt Swedish people had to take control of their own futures because they were not part of the political mix. “It’s not like they are going to throw us out. It’s not like there is open animosity, but it’s that we are not on the cards. The fact is we are going to be collateral damage,”
Another woman told Linde how she was currently being headhunted for a major job in London but had been asked to sign a contract guaranteeing her rights to permanent residency in the UK, something she said she could not do.
Linde said: “I am astonished at what I heard. What is worrying is that they are giving me evidence that they are not being treated like normal EU members, that they have to sign specific contracts if they want to continue with new work.” She said this was discriminatory under EU law.
“It is probably some years before the UK will leave the EU, but still Swedish are experiencing treatment of this kind and I find that rather shocking I must say,” she said. “It’s a kind of discrimination you are speaking about that is not allowed if you are EU members and Britain is still an EU member.”
Author: Lisa O'Carroll