Viking babies: Brexit Britain ‘will gain nothing if it becomes harder to receive Danish donor sperm’

Thousands of 'Viking babies' have been born in the UK thanks to samples sent from Europe's largest sperm bank in Denmark. The company's CEO tells The Local that Britain would be left with a donor sperm drought if a no-deal Brexit led to more red-tape.

Viking babies: Brexit Britain 'will gain nothing if it becomes harder to receive Danish donor sperm'
Photo: Cryos International.

For the head of a company that exports thousands of sperm samples from hundreds of Danish donors to British women each year, Peter Reeslev is relatively relaxed – and prepared – for the changes that Brexit will bring for EU-based sperm banks that export to the UK, of which Cryos is the largest. 

“The main issue related to Brexit is the uncertainty,” Reeslev told The Local, echoing the concerns of other Danish business leaders towards Britain's departure from the EU.

But he adds that increased demand from single woman globally looking to start a family alone makes sperm exports a growing market regardless of the political and regulatory uncertainty.

Reeslev also argues that the UK would be unwise to make it harder for Cryos International, Europe's largest sperm bank, of which Reeslev is CEO, to supply sperm samples from donors to British women.

“I do not foresee any incentives for the British government to make it more difficult to receive donor sperm from Denmark,” he says.

Any extra legislation would only lead to a “donor sperm drought,” adds Reeslev. 

“We expect however that a no-deal will require some agreements with fertility clinics in the UK in order to keep exporting samples,” adds Reeslev.

British representatives of Cryos are currently working on building bilateral agreements with the UK's 80-100 fertility clinics, he says.

READ MORE: Brexit: Brits in Denmark could face 'Brexodus'

Cryos International CEO Peter Reeslev. Photo: Cryos International. 

Should the UK government make it hard for sperm samples to reach the UK from third countries after Brexit, “more people would only travel abroad for more expensive fertility treatment,” predicts Reeslev. 

READ ALSO: Danish industry looks on nervously as UK Brexit drama unfolds

Britain is not self-sufficient in terms of sperm banks, says Reeslev, one of the main reasons more than 50 per cent of all imported samples are from Denmark.

“When you only allow non-anonymous donors you lose a lot of potential donors,” Reeslev told The Local. In addition, UK law requires that no more than 10 families be born from a single sperm bank donor.

Since 2007, UK clinics are only allowed to provide sperm samples from non-anonymous donors to women looking to be artificially inseminated. This restriction, which applies to all sperm imports too, is so that children born of artificial insemination can later contact the father when they reach 18, should they opt to.

Private donors however can provide as many samples as they wish as only licensed sperm banks must adhere to the quota of 10 babies per sperm donor. A 41-year-old British unlicensed sperm donor claims to have fathered 800 children in 16 years, according to a BBC report.

While a no-deal Brexit would make the UK a so-called “third country”(Non EU member) for Cryos, Reeslev says demand has remained consistent from the UK since the referendum.  

'Demand is mainly from single women'

“Demand is mainly from single women, but also from Lesbian couples and then heterosexual couples,” Reeslev said.

Cryos International sends “thousands” of sperm samples to the UK every year. “Several hundred sperm donors are involved in samples going to the UK,” says Reeslev. The UK represents between 5 and 10 per cent of all Cryos' business.

“Prices of donor sperm vary depending on factors such as motility (the number of of motile sperm cells in a sample), type of straw (IUI vs ICI, i.e. processed or raw sperm sample), type of donor in terms of anonymous vs. non-anonymous as well as level of donor information provided i.e. basic vs. extended information. A sample of 0,5 ml can cost from €45 up to €1.135 plus,” Reeslev told The Local.”

In the UK, being only non-anonymous donors, the price for one sperm sample from us starts at about €135,” added Reeslev. 

Cryos International CEO Peter Reeslev in one of the company's labs in Denmark. Photo: Cryos International. 

Despite knowing the number of sperm samples that leave Denmark's shores for UK, the exact number of births in the UK initiated by Cryos is hard to calculate. Women are not obliged to report the birth, which makes it hard for Cryos to monitor how many babies in the UK have actually been born from Cryos sperm samples. One media estimate suggested 6,000 'Viking babies' had been born in the UK.

With societies worldwide becoming increasingly accepting of a single woman family dynamic, demand for sperm for artificial insemination is only set to increase from the UK, says Reeslev. 

The sperm bank head's optimism sits in contrast to fears expressed by other Danish industry leaders when it comes to Brexit. Danish bacon giant Danish Crown has already announced it will cut 350-400 jobs in its UK supply chain. 

“Brexit will impact a range of sectors in the Danish economy; how much naturally depends on which agreement is made (if any). Agriculture and the fisheries industry seem particularly noticeable for Denmark,” Jesper Dahl Kelstrup, a researcher with Roskilde University, told The Local previously.

“The main sectors affected by Brexit in Denmark are food stuff, mainly meat and dairy, but also green technology, construction products, machinery, transport and Danish design products,” said Anders Ladefoged, European affairs director at Confederation of Danish Industry.

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EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.