PUSH AND PULL

Brexit is a somewhat a personal story

In Summary

• Sweden has decided to stay, because of the access it gives to trade, investment, business and study opportunities for young people.

• The notion among Brexiteers that the UK can strike trade deals with the Commonwealth, including Kenya, to compensate for lost EU trade, is very dubious

Pro and anti-Brexit demonstrators wave flags and placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 10, 2018. /REUTERS
Pro and anti-Brexit demonstrators wave flags and placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 10, 2018. /REUTERS

I had a daughter, Helena, born in 1980, who was first a European, then a citizen of the world and thirdly a Swede.

She spoke four European languages fluently: Swedish, English, Italian and French. In 1987 as a precocious seven-year-old, she joined the hotel band in Crete, Greece where we were on holiday in 1987 to sing boldly, “I want to live in Europe, I want to love and live there”.

Helena studied in Nairobi as a child, in Kampala as a teenager and took her international baccalaureate in France. She graduated from University College London with a First in Modern European Studies in 2003. By virtue of Sweden’s EU membership, Helena was awarded a stipend to pursue a Masters degree at the College of Europe in Belgium.

London became her favourite place to live and work. In 1998 she landed a job at the EU Delegation in Nairobi. Sadly, she fell terminally ill with pancreatic cancer in 2009 and passed away in June 2010, just shy of her thirtieth birthday.

Helena’s movements across Europe make me ponder what would she would think of the Brexit negotiations in the UK, if she were alive. I can imagine her taking part in passionate debates tinged with sadness and disgust. That the Britain she loved would leave the equally loved Europe was unthinkable.

Helena and I would agree that we share some of Britain’s concerns about the EU. Sweden is a staunch advocate of free trade and, like the UK, we are a key net contributor to the EU budget but not part of the Euro. We do not consider the calls for more federal integration to be a priority and we dislike the huge subsidies given to agriculture. Like the UK, we are concerned about the bureaucracy in Brussels and lobbying behind closed doors.

However, Sweden has decided to stay, because of the access it gives to trade, investment, business and study opportunities for young people, but also to make it work better and to push reforms that many on the continent are reluctant to embrace. With likeminded Denmark, the Netherlands and often Germany, we saw Britain as an invaluable ally in these battles.

 

Britain quitting will leave us more vulnerable in the years to come. There is a deep sense of abandonment by Britain. When the going gets tough, the UK sneaks out the back door. The Brexiteers exemplify selfishness. We know that alone we are not strong.

The notion among Brexiteers that the UK can strike trade deals with the Commonwealth, including Kenya, to compensate for lost EU trade, is very dubious and reeks of imperialist nostalgia. For instance, Sweden’s trade with the UK is bigger than the UK’s trade with Brazil.

The EU has 36 trade deals and Britain will not be part of them and new trade deals take decades to negotiate. 

Millions of young Europeans are working, studying and living in the UK. Sweden alone has about 100,000. They now face an unpredictable, chaotic situation. Many have decided to leave and the number of UK citizens applying for citizenship in EU countries has reached unprecedented levels. As Lord Heseltine put it, “those of a certain age who voted 70:30 to leave are rapidly being replaced by a younger generation who voted 70:30 to stay”.

Many of us had a strong affinity for Britain, its people, language, literature, universities, sport, culture and the idea of western parliamentarian democracy. The recent unprecedented bickering in Parliament has made British politics the laughing stock of Europe. Britain was also admired for its tolerance and acceptance of outsiders. Now many you believed were friends start lashing out at you, just because you were a foreigner. The affinity will not disappear completely with Brexit but it will be more difficult to maintain.

Britain within the EU would have made both the EU and the UK stronger, safer and a better place for the coming generations at a time when there is a more inward-looking USA, the rise of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and the growing strength of the far right across Europe.

So let us see if Britain might change its mind at the last minute.