Brexit domino effect? How Sweden backed following Britain out of EU in damning poll

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been handed a flurry of resignations amid his controversial Internal Market Bill, which the government admitted risks breaching international law. The UK’s envoy on press freedom, Amal Clooney, quit her role “in dismay” at the government’s willingness to break international law over Brexit. The human rights lawyer said it was “lamentable” for Boris Johnson to be contemplating overriding the Brexit agreement he signed last year.

Across the Atlantic, US presidential nominee Joe Biden similarly denounced the move, warning Mr Johnson that a trade agreement would not be reached between the two should Northern Ireland’s peace agreement be compromised.

The controversy revolves around Mr Johnson’s decision to propose new legislation risks breaching the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit divorce treaty that seeks to avoid a physical customs border on the island of Ireland.

Currently, negotiations between the UK and the EU have stalled at every stop, with disagreements focused on areas such as state aid and fishing rights.

The Prime Minister has set an October 15 deadline for any trade agreement to be struck – should a deal fail to materialise, the UK and EU will trade on WTO terms after the transition period ends on January 31.

Swexit: The 2016 poll revealed that Swedish voters were keen to follow in Britain's Brexit footsteps

Swexit: The 2016 poll revealed that Swedish voters were keen to follow in Britain’s Brexit footsteps (Image: GETTY)

Boris Johnson: The PM is tasked with several pressing issues such as Brexit and the coronavirus

Boris Johnson: The PM is tasked with several pressing issues such as Brexit and the coronavirus (Image: GETTY)

But, the initial Brexit vote in 2016 risked creating a domino effect across Europe, with most nations experiencing at least a glimmer of discontent with EU membership.

Even before the Brexit vote, unhappiness with Brussels was rife, with a 2016 poll in ultra-developed Sweden finding that should the UK vote Brexit, the majority of Swedes wanted their country to follow suit.

Before the poll, 44 percent of Swedish voters wanted to remain in the bloc, while 32 percent wanted out.

However, when asked if their opinion would change if the UK voted to leave on its historic June 23, 2016 vote, Swedes doubled down on their initial preference.

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Stefan Löfven: Löfven has been Sweden's social democratic leader since 2014

Stefan Löfven: Löfven has been Sweden’s social democratic leader since 2014 (Image: GETTY)

According to the poll published by Sifo, 36 percent of Swedes wanted to follow Britain’s path, while 32 percent wished to stay a part of the Union.

Göran von Sydow, a 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 Sweden would become more “lonely” when the UK left the EU as they are natural allies both non-eurozone members.

Yet, as the years have progressed, it appears that Sweden, as well as other Nordic countries, has ditched its “Swexit” sentiment.


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EU: Lofven speaks with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in July in Brussels

EU: Lofven speaks with Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in July in Brussels (Image: GETTY)

Jimmie Akesson: The leader of the Sweden Democrats Party said they want to reform the EU from within

Jimmie Akesson: The leader of the Sweden Democrats Party said they want to reform the EU from within (Image: GETTY)

Last year, Sweden’s major political parties left any notion of leaving the EU behind – even the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats Party.

It came as party officials cited uncertainty over Brexit and the growing resistance to federalism in many other European parties.

Party leader, Jimmie Akesson, said the party would instead attempt to change the EU from within.

He said: “We will not make any demands for leaving the EU or conducting a referendum.

“There have never been such great opportunities to change the way the EU is functioning from within as today.”

Much anti-EU sentiment burst onto the mainstream in the period after the Brexit vote.

In Italy, shortly after the Brexit vote, the anti-establishment Five Star movement declared it would demand a referendum on the euro.

The party’s leader, Beppe Grillo, went as far as to call for a full referendum on EU membership.

Transition period: After December 31 the UK and EU will trade on WTO terms in the absence of a deal

Transition period: After December 31 the UK and EU will trade on WTO terms in the absence of a deal (Image: Express Newspapers)

He said: “The mere fact that a country like Great Britain is holding a referendum on whether to leave the EU signals the failure of the European Union.”

Five Star were, at the time, regarded as a transient phenomena, much like the Brexit Party – however, five years on, and Five Star continues to make gains across Italy, having carved a traditional place for itself in the country’s political landscape.

Elsewhere, the French Front National leader, Marie le Pen, rallied her supporters to part from the “decaying” EU.

She said: “I would vote for Brexit, even if I think that France has a thousand more reasons to leave than the UK.”

Brexit negotiations: The UK and EU's chief Brexit negotiators have yet to strike a deal

Brexit negotiations: The UK and EU’s chief Brexit negotiators have yet to strike a deal (Image: GETTY)

Ms Le Pen has since backed down on her “Frexit” rhetoric, wishing to reform the EU from within.

Even Holland, considered by many as an EU safe state, showed that many voters wanted a referendum on membership after Brexit.

Mark Rutte, Holland’s Prime Minister, recently clashed with top Brussels officials over an EU stimulus package in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

He conceded to the bloc’s demands, however, with Charles Michel, President of the European Council, describing the event as a “pivotal moment” for European unity.

Second domino ready to fall! Italexit campaign erupts as Farage inspires new EU battle

The former TV has made “Italexit” the main goal for his new “No Europe for Italy” group in the hope of inspiring a fresh surge of eurosceptics. Mr Paragone, 48, hopes to use Nigel Farage’s successful blueprint for his anti-Brussels insurgency, which aims to take Italy out of the EU and its single currency bloc. Launching his political party, Mr Paragone said: “I say ‘no’ to this Europe and I start afresh with Italy, because I want to start from the sovereignty of a state which has all the cards it needs to play all the markets.

“The euro is in fact a slightly-devalued deutsche mark, so Germany does better in a Germanic union.”

“We must stop the deception of European institutions. The European citizen doesn’t exist.

“There is no part in Italy that explicitly says it wants to leave the EU and the monetary union.

“I am thinking of building a community of people who have always thought about these things, but who do not feel represented. The consensus will grow hand in hand with the lies that Europe will tell us.”

In a nod to the Brexit Party leader, he added: “We share a political project which he carried out, so he has won the gold medal.

“I want to compete now, and I willingly follow someone who won the gold.

“I met Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party in London, who triumphed in the British referendum by bringing the United Kingdom out of the European Union cage. A true patriot, the only one who sent the technocrats from Brussels away from the country.”

Mr Farage has posed for photographs emblazoned with the campaign’s “Italexit” motto.

The Italian senator, who was first elected in 2018, was booted out of the ruling Five Star Movement in January after opposing the government in a confidence vote on the budget.

He believes he can ride a new wave of anti-Brussels sentiment amid criticism of the bloc’s handling of coronavirus.

Many Italians were furious by what they saw as the EU’s failure to respond to their pleas for help when the crisis struck.

A perceived lack of solidarity sparked fears in Rome the country was about to undergo a significant shift towards an anti-euro sentiment.

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A recent study by the Piepoli institute said his party would have five percent of the vote, the sixth-biggest in the country.

Demonstrating the scale of the task at hand, Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League was found to have 27 percent.

Separate research also suggested Italians largely back remaining about of the EU’s 19-member single currency bloc.

Euromedia Research found in June 58.2 percent of Italians support the euro, with just 33.8 percent opposing it.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

Brexit domino effect: How Poland threatened EU chaos with CRUCIAL referendum

Mr Duda has narrowly beaten challenger Rafal Trzaskowski in Sunday’s presidential elections in Poland. The National Electoral Commission said Mr Duda had won 51.2 percent of the votes. It is Poland’s slimmest presidential election victory since the end of communism in 1989.

One of the major issues of the election was the future of the country’s strained relations with the EU.

Mr Duda is a social conservative allied with the government led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has repeatedly clashed with the bloc.

Under PiS, Poland has played a purely negative role in Brussels, obstructing the EU’s attempts to reform migrant policy and become carbon neutral.

Moreover, PiS talks about Brussels as a new imperial occupation force and has been in a long-running dispute with the bloc over judicial reforms, which critics say limit the independence of the courts.

In December 2019, Poland’s Supreme Court even warned that government plans to overhaul the justice system could eventually force the country to leave the EU.

In the end, the radical judicial reforms never saw the light of day but Mr Duda’s re-election may permit him to make use of veto powers.

Unearthed reports suggest the President could also re-push for a referendum on the nation’s EU membership – and even follow the UK out of the bloc, triggering a Brexit domino effect.

In 2018, Mr Duda laid out plans to address the country’s relationship with the bloc as part of a wide-ranging constitutional referendum for the first time since Warsaw joined the bloc.

Mr Duda had long argued that Poland’s 1997 constitution needed to be updated.

According to a throwback report by the Financial Times, the Polish leader set out a list of questions that citizens could have been asked in the vote.

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His proposed questions addressed a number of domestic issues, too, including expanding the President’s powers in foreign affairs and defence — an area in which Mr Duda frequently clashed with former defence minister Antoni Macierewicz — and whether Poland and Europe’s “more than 1,000-year-old Christian heritage” should have been referenced in the constitution.

Despite the President’s efforts, at the time, Poland’s Senate torpedoed his bid for the non-binding referendum on a new constitution.

Senators voted 10 in favour to 30 against, with 52 abstentions, in the 100-member upper house of Parliament that is dominated by the governing PiS party.

Under Polish law, it is up to the Senate to decide whether to proceed with presidential proposals.

Brexit domino effect: Four countries tipped to follow UK out of EU in catastrophic move

At the end of May, France and Germany announced they are backing the creation of an EU bond to raise €500billion (£447billion) to boost the European economy, severely weakened by the coronavirus pandemic. The two leaders, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, unveiled their proposal in a joint video press conference. If approved, it would be the first time the bloc has pooled its debt in this way.

The measure immediately raised objections from the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, known as the “Frugal Four”, who support the establishment of a one-off emergency fund but do not back debt sharing or a significant increase in the EU’s next seven-year budget.

These four countries regard “mutualised debt” as a mortal danger because it would open the door to the dreaded Eurobonds – meaning Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Australian taxpayers could become liable for the debt of other countries.

The pressure that the pandemic poses on the EU as a whole might work in favour of the Franco-German joint proposal, though.

Andrew Watt, head of the unit for European economic policy at the Hans-Böckler Foundation, said: “The Frugals, on paper, have a fairly strong position in the sense that this whole thing is located within the European Union budget.

However, John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Mr Corbyn, was critical of the decision, saying:

Brexit domino effect: Four countries tipped to follow Britain out of EU in catastrophic move (Image: GETTY)

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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a videoconference call (Image: GETTY)

“In practice, though, none of them want to go down in the history books as the country that, faced with a pandemic, after all these countries have gone through, let them starve.”

The plan is, nonetheless, a dangerous step as according to Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House, it might spark a Brexit domino effect – at least, in attitudes towards the bloc.

In an entry for the London School of Economics (LSE) blog, he wrote: “The similarities with previous British positions in the EU are clear.

“The Frugal Four Prime Ministers value their rebates as much as Margaret Thatcher once did.

“It is not too much of a stretch to say that the current proposal would never have even made it to the table had the United Kingdom still been a member of the EU, as London would have almost certainly vetoed it.

“One of the arguments often put forward in favour of Brexit was that the UK should leave before it would inevitably get roped into the eurozone’s mess.

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Former Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher (Image: GETTY)

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Image: GETTY)

“During the euro crisis, the UK largely avoided this fate, only contributing to the bailouts of Portugal and Ireland.

“But having to pay for economic support for the southern euro countries is exactly what is now being asked from non-euro countries like Sweden, Denmark and Czechia.”

Moreover, Mr Bergsen argued, the comparison with the UK is also instructive because the Frugal Four were often closely aligned with London in EU debates.

They broadly share the British focus on free trade and on the EU as an economic project, as opposed to its political dimension, as Germany more often tends to focus on.

The academic noted: “Just like the UK, the Frugal Four also tend to have relatively eurosceptic electorates, albeit ones that continue to indicate in polls that they would vote to remain in the EU if asked.

“The COVID-19 crisis has drawn attention to Italian voters and their disillusionment with the EU caused by the lack of support they experienced during their time of need in this pandemic.

“As Catherine de Vries, a preeminent scholar of public opinion on European integration showed on this blog, this does not mean they necessarily want to follow the UK out of the EU.

“If anything, they are instead asking for more Europe, in part out of dissatisfaction with the functioning of their own democracy.”

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Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz (Image: GETTY)

In contrast, electorates in many of the frugal countries, Mr Bergsen claimed, tend to be relatively satisfied with their national governments and the state of their democracies, while significantly less enthusiastic about further political integration in the EU.

He explained: “Governments and politicians in the Frugal Four largely continue to talk about European integration in the way most British politicians used to, using it as a handy scapegoat for unpopular policy and blustering in Brussels mainly to satisfy their domestic audience.

“In the short run, this strategy has led them to clash with, not just most of the rest of the bloc, but also their previous ally within the EU – Germany.

“In the long run, such a strategy raises questions over how the Frugal Four will deal with the secular pressure for more integration within the eurozone, particularly for the Netherlands and Austria as Denmark and Sweden are unlikely to join the single currency anytime soon.

“Even in areas other than the euro, there will be a push for more integration.

“This will create conflict with the vision of the EU that many of these member states share with the UK, which is now no longer in the club helping them to push back against this direction of integration.”

Mr Bergsen concluded that a clear appreciation of their small size and heft in the world and their deep economic integration with the rest of the EU might discourage them from following the UK out of the union.

However, the current episode once again highlights “the difficulty of deeper integration” between countries with a very different vision for the future of the EU and a political class “unable, or unwilling, to try and shift their electorate’s stance on Europe”.