Here’s Kajsa’s and my contribution to the London Review of Books feature on the ways the Continental press has reacted to Brexit. It’s one of about a dozen, to be published (slightly edited) in the first January issue of the LRB. It’s already on the web.
Swedes are going through their own political crisis just now, without a workable government in sight; but their press still finds time to marvel at the chaos that Britain’s shenanigans over Brexit presents to them, sometimes derisorily but more often in genuine puzzlement and sorrow. Sweden was a late recruit to the European enterprise, joining only in 1995 (on the basis of a 52% referendum vote), and its once dominant Social Democratic Party has always been ambivalent about membership. For the most part its doubts about the EU closely resembled Britain’s, and so made it a powerful ally of the latter’s while they were both members, which renders Britain’s imminent departure a matter of concern to the Swedes; but apparently without persuading many of them to follow suit. If anything Britain’s current experience has stiffened their resolve to stay – though some polls suggest that this could change. For the moment, however, the mainstream Swedish press is focussed not on this, but on the current process of Brexit: what is described as the ‘brexitdrama’ being played out in the House of Commons, and what it sees as the very British absurdities surrounding that. Boris especially is a genuine puzzle. There is no way, it has been pointed out to me many times, that someone like him could have any purchase in Swedish politics. Are we off our heads?
Few Swedes appear to be too worried about Brexit’s impact on the 7% of their trade that they do with Britain; but many are concerned politically for their British friends – Dagens Nyheter predicts a ‘brittisk tragedi’ – and for the ‘extremely precarious situation’ in which prime minister Stefan Löfven fears a British withdrawal will place the whole European project. Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Annika Soder, has made it plain that she would like to see Brexit overturned – ‘wouldn’t that be a good idea?’ Much is made of the extraordinary number of Britons suddenly applying for Swedish citizenship in order to keep hold of their European identity. More generally still, they are worried about the global rise of nationalism and populism that Brexit represents, and which currently affects Sweden too, with its anti-EU and anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD) sharing much common ground with UKIP. They’re the ones calling for a ‘Swexit’ referendum of their own. One of the SD’s MEPs, Peter Lundgren – a dead ringer for the Rightist MEP Svend Åge Saltum in the Danish TV series Borgen – has recently held Britain up as a ‘beacon of light’ for Eurosceptics across the continent. But presently the SD – despite their 17.6% vote in the last election – are widely regarded as too osvenskt to play any part in government; which is one of the reasons for the present constitutional stalemate.
Being a Brit in Sweden can be embarrassing just now. We’re one of the Swedes’ favourite peoples: admired for our history and culture, and loved for the Engelskt humor that goes down so well here. Brexit fits better with the humour than with the history. Shocked they may be; but a diet of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers has made them not altogether surprised.
PS: It came too late to be included; but there’s nice piece in today’s Dagens Nyheter comparing the Brexit process to an Ingmar Bergman film plot.