Europe

Brexit domino effect: How Swedes vowed to leave EU and dubbed UK ‘closest ally’

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An opinion poll from Sifo published in April 2016 revealed the majority of Swedish voters wanted to stay in the EU, but that this would switch if the UK voted to leave ‒ which of course, it did. The UK left the EU on January 31 and is on course to exit the transition period by the end of the year. However, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works, diverting the governments of both the UK and the EU27 away from a Brexit deal and towards controlling the virus.

This week, virtual talks are taking place between negotiation teams of the UK and the EU, and it is believed they will be working out whether it is possible to secure a deal by the end of the year.

Without working out what the future trading relationship will look like, Britain risks leaving without a deal.

Despite how unpopular Brexit has been with EU bosses, there is a chance there may be a “domino effect”, whereby other countries start holding referendums on membership.

Sweden, for example, was one of the UK’s “closest allies” in the European Council, according to analysis by VoteWatchEurope, along with Denmark and the Netherlands.

This means these countries would stand to lose the most from Brexit, and this was reflected in the Sifo opinion poll.

If the status quo was maintained, 44 percent of Swedish voters wanted to remain in the bloc, with 32 percent wanting to leave.

However, in the case of Brexit, only 32 percent would want to maintain membership, with 36 percent wanting to follow the UK’s example.

Göran von Sydow, political scientist and researcher at the Swedish Institute for European Political Studies (SIEPS), said: “If there’s going to be a ‘Brexit’, then this would raise so many questions related to the impact on the EU and the Swedish membership.”

He added that the UK is seen as a traditional ally for Sweden in the EU, as both are non-Eurozone members.

Both countries seem to share an instinct to keep the bloc at an arm’s length and without the UK’s presence round the table, Sweden would feel more “lonely”.

While most of the main parties in the Swedish parliament are pro-EU, making it unlikely that an EU referendum would be proposed, the situation could change if Brexit fundamentally changed the bloc itself.

For example, a study by VoteWatchEurope found that Brexit would leave behind a more left-wing EU, keener on business regulation and more anti-nuclear.

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Mr von Sydow added: “If the EU is tantamount to being in the Eurozone, then maybe we need to consider whether it’s worth remaining or whether we need to seek an alternative.”

On the other hand, if Brexit goes badly for the UK, this may deter countries like Sweden and Denmark from following in its footsteps.

This in turn gives an incentive for the EU to give the UK a bad deal, to prevent the feared domino effect.

In 2016, Sweden’s support for the EU dropped, mainly due to the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis, which saw 163,000 people apply for asylum in Sweden.

Meanwhile, many people in Denmark, which traditionally is more Eurosceptic than Sweden, saw the concessions David Cameron got from the bloc about benefits for EU migrants as satisfactory, and criticism for the EU waned.

In fact, even Morten Messerschmidt, a prominent member of the far-right Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party, said after the Brussels summit that leaving the EU was not on the table for his country.

On the other hand, the party’s spokesman for EU affairs Kenneth Kristensen Berth, said Brexit would automatically force Denmark to reconsider its membership.

Indeed, Denmark’s main reason for joining the EU in 1973 was because Britain was its biggest export market at the time.

Mr Kristensen Berth told Politiken: “I don’t think we should just continue and say ‘well, OK so the Brits have left us, we will continue as members without giving that more thought.’

“I don’t think we should do so. I think we should really consider what kind of development the EU would begin in case Great Britain leaves.”

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