The Brexit Brit in Tampere who finally became a Finn

Stephen Baxter and his family are a textbook example of EU freedom of movement rights - but his fears of losing those rights prompted him to become a Finnish citizen.

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File picture of dual British-Finnish national Stephen Baxter with his new Finnish passport / Credit: Stephen Baxter

British nationals in Finland, and across Europe, have faced more than three years of uncertainty after the UK voted to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum.

The latest deadline for Brexit has come and gone at the end of October, and the new date is set for the end of January 2020 – or sooner – or later, perhaps, depending on the results of Britain’s 12th December general election.

Over the last few years an increasing number of Brits in Finland have been going down the road of obtaining Finnish citizenship, to future-proof them from Brexit.

Having a Finnish passport guarantees them a place to stay, and the continued freedoms to move around Europe to live and work if they want.

Stephen Baxter in Tampere is one of those Brexit Brits who became a Finn.

The son and grandson of coal miners in County Durham in the north east of England, he moved to Denmark for work age 22, and never looked back.

“Coming from a coal mining background, we were bottom of the pile in the English class system. And coming to Denmark they didn’t have a class system” he says.

“You could have an unemployed guy in a nice house living next to a dentist owning his own practice and doing really well and you couldn’t tell the difference in the houses, the cars or the way they spoke. It was a real eye-opener” he tells News Now Finland.

Mr Baxter had discovered the Nordic model of equality, so it was perhaps no surprise that he married a Finnish woman, and moved back to her home country after 12 years of working as a teacher in Denmark.

Detail of blue balloons with EU logo / Credit: News Now Finland

Freedom of movement around Europe 

Settling into life in Finland as the country was coming out the other side of the crippling depression of the 1990s, Stephen Baxter found a place he was happy to call home, except for one problem: the weather.

“When I first came to Finland it wasn’t in the European Union, and I was quite happy when they joined. Finland was a good country, but the weather was getting me down.”

“By 1998 the winter had been particularly long and cold and depressing, and that summer there were only two warm days. I hadn’t seen the sun for 12 months, so we decided to sell up and have a family adventure.”

Leaving Tampere behind, the Baxters – Stephen and his wife, and their two sons – packed up and moved to Portugal.

In Lisbon Stephen got a job teaching at a private education institute, the boys enrolled in local Portuguese schools, and the family opened a bar in the city.

The relocation from Finland to Portugal was possible because of the freedom of movement to live and work in any of the European Union countries, and the Baxters’ English-Finnish family, living in Portugal, are a prime example of how it can work in practice.

After a five year adventure, they were on the move again, this time back to Tampere.

“I don’t regret moving back. I didn’t particularly want to at the time, but I don’t regret it” Stephen Baxter recalls.

“Finland has really developed so much since I arrived here, technologically, digitally, and other countries seem to be so far behind with everything but the Finns work together, they adapt very easily to new challenges and with mobile technology when it came, everybody started using mobile phones here” he says, noting that even other countries even in the Nordics lagged behind Finland in the digital revolution.

File photo of Finnish passport / Credit: iStock

Moving forward with citizenship 

With the spectre of Brexit hanging over British nationals since 2016, and the probably loss of rights to live and work in other EU countries, Stephen Baxter started to think about the practicalities of having a British or Finnish passport.

“If I had a choice between a Finnish passport and a UK one, I would choose a Finnish one” he says.

With the first Brexit deadline looming earlier this spring for Britain’s EU departure, Mr Baxter decided to start the process to become a Finnish citizen.

“I got quite angry with the British government. There is no information. I still haven’t heard anything about Brexit from the British government. I got more from the Finnish government than the British government about Brexit” he says.

Baxter already had strong language skills, but needed a formal qualification to put together the paperwork for his application.

“I had to take a language test before the application, that was one of the criteria. I had to go to a college in Tampere, we had a reading comprehension test, we had to read various texts and answer some questions. Then there was a writing exercise, and then we were taken to a language lab where we had a listening comprehension test, then a speaking test recorded on tape” he explains.

After those results came back – he made the grade – he didn’t embark on the rest of the process immediately because of all the uncertainty swirling around about Brexit, whether it would happen, or whether things might change due to the political situation in Britain.

“I didn’t apply at first because at some point you say they’re definitely leaving. Another point you say there’s no way they’re leaving. When I knew Boris Johnson was going to become Prime Minister I said I had to get it done before the end of October. That was the trigger for me to start the process online” says Baxter.

Everything he needed for the application he found online – “Migri has a fantastic website” – and in early June this year he submitted his full package to become a citizen.

“I got confirmation that I had been accepted as a Finnish citizen on 2nd of September” he says, a decision he doesn’t regret.

“The way I’ve been treated in Finland made me love Finland more than I already did.”