The Finnish government can’t guarantee that British nationals will have an automatic right to stay in the country if Britain exits the EU without a deal.
In a statement to News Now Finland, Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen (NCP) says that Finland “wants to be open and smoothly accessible for Britons in all circumstances” but in the event that Britain leaves the EU without a deal in place about future relations, Brits in Finland would have to re-apply to remain here – even if they are already legal residents.
“The starting point is that in a no-deal situation Britons in Finland should apply for residence permits for third-country nationals” says Mykkänen.
“Even in this case, the British residence permits could, however, be handled smoothly” he adds.
Mykkänen was asked if he could provide assurances that British nationals in Finland would have their rights to continued residency guaranteed in the event of a Brexit no deal, but he was unable to do so.
Mykkänen’s admission leaves open the possibility that Brits who have to re-apply for residency might have their applications rejected, and be forced to leave the country.
Officials at the Interior Ministry concede that up to now, not much thought has gone into the scenario of what should happen to more than five thousand British passport holders who currently live and work in Finland. Many have been here long term, with spouses, children, jobs and deep ties to the country.
“We want Britons living in Finland to feel that they are warmly welcome to stay also in the future and will seek such solutions both on EU and national levels” Mykkänen tells News Now Finland.
However, his lack of cast-iron guarantees will worry many in Finland’s British community.
Concern among the British community
As with any population, opinions about Brexit among Brits in Finland are divided.
Some people are unconcerned about what the future holds for them, counting on the Finnish government to ‘do the right thing’ by legal, long term residents.
For others, Brexit is a deeply personal issue that sparks worries about being used as bargaining chips by the UK or EU governments as the separation talks reach their end game.
“I live and work in Finland, I have a British passport and citizenship. I was not allowed to vote in the referendum. Finns think we are utterly mad. I am sleepless at what will happen to me” Finnish resident Matthew Wooller wrote on Twitter recently.
“How does residency of Finland apply if I want to travel to Sweden, where my daughter studies, or even if I want to visit friends in France” Åland resident John Knight wrote on the British Embassy’s Facebook page.
“My daughter graduates from her university not long after the March Brexit date next year. Does this mean I cannot travel to share that moment with her?” asks Knight.
At a recent talk, British Ambassador Tom Dodd was not able to give much reassurance about what might happen next in the event there is no Brexit deal between the UK and EU.
“What we think would happen would be that there would be a movement of move Brits, mono Brits, from the EU side of the register to the third country side of the register” says Ambassador Dodd.
“But how it would happen, how it would work is not clear” he admits.
While some EU countries like France have recently moved to give clearly defined rights to UK nationals no matter what happens during the end stage of Brexit negotiations, Finland is not prepared to go that far, yet.
Crunch Brexit talks being in Brussels
The latest uncertainty comes as EU leaders, including Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) fly to Brussels on Wednesday for crucial Brexit talks with their British counterpart Theresa May.
Although there are several areas where the two sides are still far from agreement, the most contentious topic is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
After Brexit, the south will remain in the European Union while the north will stay in the UK, sharing a land border. The EU and UK both want to avoid a ‘hard border’ with physical barriers and controls. But they disagree what to do instead.
The EU wants to include Northern Ireland in the Customs Union with the south, but this is unacceptable to the British government.
European Council President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday there were “no grounds for optimism” about Britain and the EU reaching a deal this month, and told May to “present something creative enough to solve this impasse” at the Brussels summit.
“Our primary goal now is to finish the withdrawal agreement and we believe that it can be achieved” says Kai Mykkänen.
“At this stage, this is no alternative negotiations in case of a no deal take place. Such discussions could interfere with the current exit process. If, however, an agreement is not achieved, the EU would strive to work unitedly and seek EU-level solutions”.