A country divided: how Finnish journalists are covering Britain’s Brexit chaos

We talked with three Finnish correspondents reporting from Britain ahead of today's important Brexit vote.

File picture of EU and UK flags in front of Big Ben / Credit: iStock

Britain’s parliament is facing one of its biggest votes in recent memory today. Later this evening politicians will vote on whether to accept the deal Prime Minister Theresa May has struck with the European Union, or not.

If the deal does not get approved, as looks almost certain, the weeks ahead are filled with more of the uncertainty that has plagued the UK since a majority of voters opted to quit the EU in a referendum in 2016.

With such a pivotal day not just for Britain but for the whole European Union, it’s no surprise that Finnish journalists are already in London to report events as they unfold.

We talked with three of them to find out about their Brexit experiences so far.

File picture of Helsingin Sanomat correspondent Annamari Sipilä / Credit: Journalist’s own photo

Helsingin Sanomat

In the past few years Annamari Sipilä has seen more of the United Kingdom than many of its citizens.

The Helsingin Sanomat correspondent has been all around Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, on the south coast of England, and to the east coast talking with fishermen. She’s been to under-reported locations like Peterborough and Stoke. And further afield to EU summits following Theresa May.

But for today’s vote she’s back at her home base in London.

“To be honest with you I’m not surprised when I talk to Brexiteers outside London. I do get what they’re up to. They’re normal people. Some want to have more independence. Some want no more immigrants. I don’t always agree with them, but I’m not shocked or surprised” says Sipilä.

Through her reporting she has tried to give a voice to those anti-EU Brexit supporters, but what she found most surprising has been the politicians.

“What I’m shocked and surprised about is how timid parliament has been for almost two years. It started to get argumentative only last autumn. Until then, for almost two years, it was just following whatever Theresa May’s government said. It wasn’t a real parliament” she adds.

Britain’s Labour party opposition has been “a joke” according to Sipilä – and many in the UK would agree with her.

“The Scottish National Party has been extremely strong. They have been logical, they have been always there trying to give people kind of another path out of Brexit. But unfortunately Labour has been a joke” she states.

The veteran correspondent concedes that nobody knows what will happen after today’s vote “we can only guess” she says, but sees that people have been changing their minds in the last few years.

“You can now see more clearly what a horrible outcome Brexit will bring to the country. It’s impossible to say what to do, especially for a Finn living in London” she says.

File picture of MTV Uutiset correspondent Janne Hopsu / Credit: Journalist’s own photo

MTV Uutiset

Foreign affairs correspondent Janne Hopsu is no stranger to the UK, and he’s back again reporting for MTV Uutiset ahead of the crunch Brexit vote in parliament. He also covered the 2017 general election where Theresa May consolidated her position as Prime Minister.

“The process is going on and on, and people are fed up with it” says Hopsu, as he finished stuffing his camera bag with clothes so he can travel as light as possible.

“The Brexit vote was so tight, and people already then wanted some conclusion. People are fed up and I can expect pro and anti-EU camps protesting in front of parliament on Tuesday” he says.

On previous reporting trips Hopsu says people willing to talk with him, but he found the divisions in society, politics, and the media quite stark.

“My perception is that the country is divided. I think politically people are quite tired as well, and quite many people still don’t know what it’s about. People are confused and tired and fed up and you see it in the politicians as well” he tells News Now Finland.

As the Brexit deadline of 29th March approaches, Hopsu reckons that people in the UK will start to become more acutely aware of what problems might be just around the corner in the event of a no-deal divorce.

“It might get more difficult to travel abroad and get stuff in stores. They are used to frictionless lines. That’s one thing I would like to know, what people think about it. It’s quite hard to imagine when things run quite smoothly, you’re used to things working and functioning, how it will be when those things stop working as they do now”.

File picture of Svenska Yle correspondent Rikhard Husu in Brussels / Credit: Journalist’s own picture

Svenska Yle

Based in Brussels since last summer, correspondent Rikhard Husu has been following Brexit closely at the European level. He’s also reported from the UK and made the trip to London again for today’s Brexit vote.

“The situation is very dramatic, but also very interesting from a journalist point of view” says Husu, who works for Svenska Yle, the Swedish-language service of Finland’s public broadcaster.

At the ruling Conservative Party conference in the autumn, he got the chance to speak with many younger members of the party and was surprised by what he heard.

“I was fascinated by how strong the reactions were. I was expecting maybe 50/50 or maybe more for Brexit, but almost 90% seemed to be very hard line Brexiteers. Maybe the ones against it didn’t want to do interviews, but the ones I talked to were very hard line people supporting this no-deal Brexit” he recalls.

One thing that has stood out for Husu is the solidarity between the EU27 countries, in a way that Britain perhaps wasn’t expecting, or prepared for.

“The perception was that these 27 were not united and the UK always thought they could have some favours. But now you see these countries have been very firm, and delegated negotiations to Michel Barnier. I have been very surprised that the EU countries have stood behind Barnier the way they have” says Husu.

Today in London he plans to be reporting from outside parliament, and has always found it easy to talk with people on the street in the UK. “People are polite and willing to elaborate what they are thinking about things. Of course the demonstrations outside Westminster there you have people with very strong opinions, but that’s not the general population” Husu explains.

“I had a chance to talk to really many people. There was logic to it. Many said to me they do not support Theresa May or the party, but they somehow sort of respect what she is doing under the circumstances”.