Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) joined other EU leaders Sunday, at a special summit in Brussels to endorse a divorce deal for Britain.
Leaders also approved the political declaration on future EU-UK relations, which accompanies the Brexit agreement. The whole package now need to be ratified by national parliaments, and while it’s certain to be approved in Helsinki, the maths doesn’t add up for approval in the British parliament.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said today she wasn’t sad at leaving the EU – although she said she understood if other European leaders were sad Britain was going.
May’s latest dismissive comments come just days after she described EU nationals in Britain as ‘jumping the queue’ ahead of migrants from outside the European Union when it came to jobs.
“Once we are outside the EU we will be fully in control of who comes here” she told an audience of business leaders last week.
“It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney, or software developers from Delhi” May said.
We asked the British embassy in Helsinki for a comment on whether they thought Finns in the UK were ‘queue jumpers’ but messages to the press officer and to ambassador Tom Dodd went unanswered.
Jenni Brodie: not a queue jumper
According to the Finnish embassy in London more than 20,000 Finns have made the UK their home, and while the majority are in the capital area, there are Finnish communities scattered all round the country from Bristol in the south west to Aberdeen and the Scottish Highlands.
Finns we spoke to say they’re annoyed by the comments from Theresa May.
“Using that phrase, queue jumping, invalidates the whole idea that I came here because I had the right to come here, like I somehow cheated by coming here, and it makes you feel even less welcome than before with this Brexit stuff. There wasn’t a queue to jump!” says Jenni Brodie.
Originally from the Turku region, Jenni has called Edinburgh home for the last five years where she runs her own business.
Working as a translator from Finnish and Swedish to English, she’s says it’s absolutely not the case that she came to the UK to ‘take anyone’s job’.
“First, I employ myself. Second, nobody in this country could do this job; and third most of my clients are in Finland so every month I am taking money out of Finland and bringing it to the UK” she explains in a phone interview.
Brodie, who has integrated into her community with a Scottish husband, by volunteering at local events, and as chairperson of the Finnish-Scottish Society, notes with irony that Theresa May now wants to stop EU nationals having free movement to Britain and encourage more people from Delhi or Sydney to come instead.
“What’s even worse though is that she’s going to make it fairer for Indian people, but when she was working at the Home Office, she was working hard to keep those people out! It’s not like the [right wing] UK Independence Party supporters will say ‘less EU people, more Indians, more Nigerians'” she says, exasperated.
Maija Aalto: also not a queue jumper
For students at a high school outside Edinburgh, having a history and modern studies teacher from Finland has been a novelty.
“They love talking about the snow! They don’t know too much about Finland, so they don’t have stereotypes, but they know Kimi Räikkönen, Santa Claus or the Dudesons” says Maija Aalto.
Twice now the teacher from Tampere has been offered jobs because she was temping at a school, and positions went unfilled when Scottish teachers pulled out at the last minute.
“Schools are literally begging me to stay. The headmaster is coming three times per week to my classroom begging me not to leave” she says.
Maija moved to Edinburgh with her Finnish partner who works as an energy consultant.
“I don’t think I’m a queue jumper when it comes to jobs. I am competing against other nationals, Scottish people, English people, people from around the EU. The whole point of the EU was for people to go to these places for work, so we could have movement of workers, and so I think it’s really funny to go back on that” she says.
Although Maija and her boyfriend enjoy living in Scotland, there is some uncertainty about their futures.
“I think that British people are less open minded. When I came here and I did my Erasmus in 2002 in Manchester I felt like the world was so open and I felt like people were so curious about everything […] but now you see that people have been attacked”.
“Nobody has been racist to me except one time [in a supermarket] when me and my boyfriend were speaking in Finnish and one woman said to me ‘fuck off and speak English'” she says.
Merita Reijonen: not a queue jumper either
If there was a queue to jump when Merita Reijonen moved to a small town in the north of Scotland, nobody showed her to the front of the line.
The Jamsa native applied for dozens of jobs before finding work at a local bakery.
“There were lots of jobs I was positive I would get, I was perfectly qualified, and I had the experience but I didn’t even get an interview. I thought if this was Finland, I would get a job right away” she tells News Now Finland.
Theresa May’s comment shocked Merita, who says she usually gets a positive reaction when she tells locals that she’s from Finland.
“It was shocking. I think she missed the whole point of why we have free movement in Europe. It’s based on cultural similarities, similarities in education, being able to provide a workforce in the whole European market, and geographical closeness” explains Merita, who moved to the UK with her Scottish boyfriend.
“I grew up in a world where Europe was free. I’ve been able to go to other countries all my life. So for me it’s always been a given right”.