Borders and Brexit… the Nordic experience, the optimism I found on the E6

Brexit weighs heavy on my mind, I’ve always been in the EU and so the uncertainty of the Brexit shenanigans is doing my head in, yet it is strangely fascinating in a depressing way. I’ve been wondering what the impact of Brexit will be on the professional services sector, and particularly the legal world, but a recent trip to Scandinavia gave me hope…

 

Last weekend I took a Nordic jaunt – into Norway and then across the border by road into Sweden, so into the EU from outside. Given all the conversations going on in the UK about borders, travel, and right to work after Brexit, I was intrigued to observe what that experience would be like.

 

Freedom of movement.

Guess what – NOTHING!! Smooth, no stopping or inconvenience. Sure there’s the sign indicating entry to Sweden, customs facilities, and some modern technology as regards number plate recognition cameras, but nothing I would regard as untoward. The ‘Ø’ becoming an ‘Ö’ on the road signs was the biggest immediate difference. Commercial vehicles used the customs point as expected but cars whizzed on down the E6…. no doubt some to the köpcenter (that’s Swedish for shopping centre, FYI) next to the border in order to benefit from far cheaper purchases. (Some Norway residents even get cars serviced and tyres fitted in Sweden such is the financial saving.) Whilst they can close the border if required it is relatively infrequent, more often looking for political activists (neo-Nazi’s last year) who the authorities want to be aware of if they are heading to Sweden.

At Brooke Thornham we only place lawyers in legal jobs within the UK, but it’s made me realise how much we’ve benefited from the freedom of movement that being an EU citizen affords our candidates. On those occasions when EU lawyers have moved to the UK to start a new legal job in the North, the process has been relatively smooth and difficulty-free for everyone involved. How long would it last, I wondered as we crossed effortlessly into Sweden.

 

The Border.

The return crossing was different. The border into Norway was closed – oh the irony, it was harder to get out of the EU proper than into it! Barriers with flashing lights were down and a 1km queue developed as all north bound traffic was diverted to the customs checks. Was it convenient? Not really, but it was accepted because that is life on occasion for those crossing that border, and everybody knows it. The queue was observed calmly, as routine, and polite questions about the identity of car occupants and their destination were answered without offence or annoyance.

If this is the kind of barrier we’d face to UK legal recruitment on leaving the EU, I thought to myself, how different would things be? The answer made me feel hopeful – actually, not that different after all.

The stoppage was a physical manifestation of the border which I am not used to, but given the camera’s and technology above the carriageway the authorities would have known the vehicles passing by even if they’d not been stopped. They’re clever these Scandinavians and technology is everywhere to keep things running smoothly. Perhaps we can do the same.

 

Optimism.

The reality of that border is that it is no big deal, and the way users deal with it is with pragmatism as it is a part of life. And from that I felt optimism. UK borders as part of Brexit can surely be managed can’t they? I know there are countless arguments, complications and political standpoints to try and accommodate. I also know that the Scandinavian countries have their own agreements and idiosyncrasies. It is complicated. But the word “can’t” isn’t appropriate when it comes to these things. Anything is possible, but the mind set needs to be right and there’s a compromise to be reached, not by choice but of necessity. Maybe someone could get 28 national leaders aboard a bus and have them drive up and down the E6 to focus their minds on solutions rather than problems.

 

Solution.

All that’s to be hoped is that the powers that be can find an acceptable solution, and that within that the service sector (I am a recruiter after all) can be part of it. Whilst I don’t place lawyers outside the UK my clients are international brands and their clients need to prosper so the service sector needs to fit in one way or another. Fingers crossed it can be sorted, lest I’ll be heading back to Scandinavia to remind myself of how things can work properly, which would be a sobering thought given the prices out there!

 

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