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Why Swedes support EU more after Brexit vote

Swedish support for staying in the European Union has grown in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, a new poll shows.

Why Swedes support EU more after Brexit vote
The EU flag outside Stockholm's city hall. Photo: Emma Löfgren/The Local

The survey carried out by pollsters Novus for Swedish broadcaster TV4 suggests that 63 percent of Swedes would vote to remain if a referendum on Sweden’s EU membership was held today, up from 58 percent in a previous Novus study conducted prior to the Brexit vote last June.

Political scientist Ian Manners, who works at the University of Copenhagen and is a Brit living in Sweden, says the shift is a sign that the Brexit vote has made Swedes think about the EU in more detail.

“It’s easy to say the key factor is simply the chaos in the UK itself, but I think that’s secondary,” he told The Local.

“The average Swedish person doesn’t think or care much about the EU, but Brexit brings it to the fore. The UK referendum made a complicated issue real, and people in Sweden are suddenly forced to think about what the EU is, rather than just having a vague opinion on it.”

The Novus survey also suggests that Swedish confidence in the EU has grown significantly. While in June, confidence in the union among Swedes polled at 38 percent, it is now up to 48 percent, and political scientist Manners puts that surge down to three factors.

“There are political, economic, and social factors at play. The potential for political chaos, for economic trauma, and the possibility of a single-issue referendum on immigration, as happened in the UK,” he explained.

“All feed the changing perception on the EU in Sweden. Sweden can look on at Britain with horror and think ‘what do we have, and what do we not want to have?’”

The TV4/Novus poll took in the opinions of 1000 people aged between 18 and 79, and was carried out after the June 23rd UK referendum. 

Anti-EU campaigners in Sweden have previously said that they hoped Brexit would create a breeding ground for future questions over Sweden's EU membership. 

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British actor married to Swedish pop star gives up post-Brexit fight to stay in Sweden

Former Bollywood actor Kenny Solomons' imminent return to the UK after failing to get post-Brexit residency has made national news in Sweden thanks to his marriage to the singer from the band Alcazar. He tells The Local why he's leaving.

British actor married to Swedish pop star gives up post-Brexit fight to stay in Sweden

The QX gala – Sweden’s glitzy, televised celebration of gay culture – is not the first place a man in his 20s would go to find a future wife. 

But that’s what happened to British actor Kenny Solomons.

Solomons, now 37, was already a well-known face in Sweden after playing the superhero in adverts for the internet provider Bredbandsbolaget. He was there to give out an award. Tess Merkel, singer for the nu-disco band Alcazar – one of Sweden’s most successful ever groups – was there to receive one.

“It was utterly insane,” Solomons remembers. “I had had a few drinks and then I woke up the next day in this typical Swedish apartment with kids’ toys everywhere. I was like, ‘what the fuck is going on?'”

“The kids were away with their dad, and Tess went off to work the next day and she left a note – as a joke – on the kitchen table that said ‘sorry I left you, but I took off to plan our wedding’. I thought it was a one-night stand. I was 25 years old and she was 17 years older. I didn’t expect to be married.”

The actor Kenny Solomons (right) arrives at the QX Gala in 2016. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

But in 2015 they got engaged and then in 2017, they married in the Indian holiday paradise of Goa, making it legal for Sweden with a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall the next year. 

By then, Solomons was so deeply embedded in Stockholm’s celebrity whirl that everything from the Brexit referendum to the deadline for post-Brexit residency had more or less passed him by. It was only when he took a trip to Greece in the summer of 2022, his first international trip since the pandemic broke out, that he realised the mistake he had made. 

“We flew back through Serbia, which is outside the European Union, so as we were coming in through the Swedish border, they said ‘hey, you do realise that you’re going to need to send in a whole load of information’, and I was completely shocked. I had no idea. I mean, to some people, I might sound like an absolute moron, but I just wasn’t aware of it.” 

In some ways his ignorance was unsurprising, given the Swedish authorities’ decision not to contact British citizens directly, even digitally, to inform them of the need to apply for post-Brexit residency by the end of 2021, although there was information published online.

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Unlike many Brits in Sweden, Solomons was at that point completely integrated, living in the upmarket Stockholm district of Hammarby Sjöstad, and speaking almost exclusively Swedish.   

“It wasn’t originally the plan to do everything in Swedish. It was after I started working and running a business here, that it just sort of kicked in,” he remembers. “After three or four years, I suddenly was like, ‘ah, OK, I’m speaking Swedish. My mother would be very proud, that me, a dyslexic boy from Southend-on-Sea in Essex, could speak even one word in another language!”

Because he only hung out with Swedes and rarely met other Brits, he had simply not heard about the Brexit deadline. 

“All of my friends are in the industry. I socialise among those who also work as artists here in Sweden,” he explains. “When you work as an entrepreneur or an artist, there is nobody to give you that little nudge and say, ‘hey, there is a thing going on called Brexit and it’s going to affect your status here in Sweden’. I had absolutely no idea that it would affect me in this way, and would still be affecting me four years on.”

Looking back, he remembers spending much of 2020 and 2021 desperately trying and eventually failing to save his chain of barbershops and hair-replacement therapy centres from bankruptcy due to the pandemic.

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When he did apply for post-Brexit residency – nearly a year late – he was rejected as the Migration Agency does not treat ignorance as “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline. He appealed the decision to the Migration Court, but this month decided he had had enough of waiting, given that rejection was “inevitable”. 

“It’s now 19 months since I sent in my appeal to the Migration Court, and the pressure of not knowing, every day, and the pressure of having to say ‘no’ to career opportunities outside of Europe, and the pressure of not knowing with 100 percent certainty that I can live and work in Sweden in the long run was just affecting my health, and my mental health as well,” he says.

“I hit the wall, was suffering with anxiety, and was incredibly unhappy. So I made the decision.” 

He’s now going to return to the UK and apply for spousal reunion with Merkel. As he has no young children of his own, there is little chance of getting granted the right to do this from within Sweden.

Since he left the UK as a young man, his mother has died, and his 60-year-old father has left their childhood home in Essex and moved to Chester on the other side of England, somewhere he has never been. 

“I guess I’ll go and sleep on his couch,” he says. “I can moan and be upset and say all these awful things. But I have my health and I have a place to go. There are people in a similar situation that don’t have any connections or ties left in the UK any longer, so I’m very grateful to at least have a couch to crash on while I figure out this next step.” 

His father got married in the middle of June, and Solomon’s plan is to return for the wedding party on August 24th, handing in his application for spousal reunion in Sweden within days of arrival. He has no idea if he will then have to wait six months, or two years, before he is granted the right to live again in Sweden.  

“My wife and I, we really always try to make the best out of a bad situation, whatever it is, so when I leave Sweden and start my process from my dad’s I want to continue to be able to give back to this country.” 

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His next plan is to return to India, where he spent several years before coming to Sweden working as an actor in Bollywood films. 

“You’re gonna think I’m completely nuts. I want to fly to the most northern part of India and run from North India to South India, the whole way, and raise money for Läkare Utan Gränser [the Swedish arm of the global medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)].” 

He says that one of the silver linings to his situation is that as someone involved in Swedish showbusiness, his case has received media coverage, unlike hundreds of other British citizens who have been victims of Sweden’s strict application of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. 

“It’s a very, very great luxury and something I don’t take for granted that I have a platform that can be used for to spread my thoughts and my opinions,” he said, adding that he has also enjoyed sharing information with and trying to help other British people in the same situation. 

Tess Merkel’s band Alcazar performed at the Eurovision Grand Final in Malmö in 2024. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Now he’s looking forward to returning back to the UK, where family and friends were in May blown away by the surprise appearance of Merkel and the rest of Alcazar at the Eurovision Grand Final. 

“I had to keep it a secret from my family in England. I couldn’t tell anybody because Alcazar had written a contract with Eurovision,” he remembers. “So my family didn’t know, and they were just shocked when they came on. They Facetimed me just afterwards and said, ‘they really made fun of Alcazar. I felt really sorry for them’.”

But Alcazar, he said, had no issues with being made the butt of a joke about their ‘reunion’ not quite being the hoped-for Abba appearance. The are, he says, “a playful band”. 

“She is that person in real life. She’s absolutely fantastic. She’s an absolute gem. She’s my best friend,” he said of Merkel. “She might say to you, ‘it will be quite nice to have a bit of a break from Kenny. He’s a pain in the ass’. But taking this step is like losing my right hand, because we are so co-dependent on each other – in all the best ways.” 

Membership+ subscribers can listen to the full interview with Kenny Solomons in the Sweden in Focus Extra podcast, which will be available from Wednesday, June 26th.   

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