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Brexit and its consequences in Switzerland

Today is an important day in the United Kingdom as it is set to vote on the Brexit deal which may lead to the UK leaving the EU in the near future. Should this happen, this would also have an impact on Switzerland which is why both countries have been working on reaching an agreement to keep the doors open between both countries. Back in December the UK and Switzerland announced that they had reached a deal. The deal is meant to assure that the citizens from each country can live in the other country without any problems, and that all air traffic between the countries would be able to proceed smoothly. Whereas some of this deal is straightforward to implement, other parts (the right of citizens) will need to be approved by the Swiss parliament.

35 000 Swiss live in the UK, and 41 000 UK citizens live in Switzerland. In 2017, the UK was Switzerland’s sixth biggest export market (CHF 11.4 billion) and the eighth largest source of Switzerland’s imports (CHF 6.1 billion). The UK is Switzerland’s sixth largest direct investor (as at 2016), and around 58,600 flights a year from Switzerland are destined for the UK.

At present the very close relations enjoyed by Switzerland and the UK are largely based on the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU. Post-Brexit these agreements will cease to apply to the relationship between Switzerland and the UK and will have to be replaced by new agreements, irrespective of the course of the EU–UK negotiations.
Switzerland wishes to ensure that the existing mutual rights and obligations in its relationship with the UK will continue to apply as far as possible after the UK leaves the EU, and to possibly expand them in certain areas.
In this context, Switzerland has drawn up new agreements with the UK which will apply when the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU are no longer valid for the UK. In the event of a disorderly withdrawal on 29 March 2019, the new agreements will be applicable from 30 March 2019.
A new trade agreement essentially allows for the replication of the bulk of existing economic and trade agreements (e.g. the free trade agreement), and provides scope for future exploratory talks on developing further ties. The Federal Council adopted the text of the agreement on 14 December 2018.
Two new transport agreements are also in place. The first is an overland transport agreement, which ensures that carriers will continue to be exempted from obtaining permits to transport freight traffic by road between Switzerland and the UK, and that reciprocal road access for transporting goods and passengers will also be maintained. The agreement still prohibits cabotage, i.e. the right of one state to carry goods or passengers between two points in another state. The second is a new air transport agreement, which will preserve the existing air traffic rights between Switzerland and the UK. There are around 150 flights a day between the two countries. Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard and UK Transport Minister Chris Grayling signed the new air transport agreement on 17 December 2018 in Zurich.
On 19 December, the Federal Council adopted an agreement with the UK on migration-related matters. If the free movement of persons ceases to apply to the UK, this new agreement will protect the rights of Swiss nationals in the UK – which they acquired under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) – such as residency and social security rights and the recognition of professional qualifications. Reciprocal conditions will apply to UK nationals in Switzerland. This new agreement will not apply to people who immigrate after the AFMP is no longer valid.
While the Federal Council’s remit extends to finalising the new agreements on transport, parliamentary approval is required for the new trade agreement and agreement on the rights of citizens. In order to ensure the new agreements can be implemented immediately after 29 March 2019 if required, the responsible parliamentary commissions must vote for a provisional application of such agreements.
The new agreements will only apply from the end of March 2019 in the event of a disorderly withdrawal.
If there is a transition period, the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU will continue to apply to the UK. The new agreements would only take effect once this transition period had lapsed. If this occurs, Switzerland’s new trade and migration-related agreements with the UK could be supplemented with other provisions depending on how the relationship between the UK and the EU develops.
Brexit-related preparations are also under way in other areas that will not however require new agreements (e.g. data protection). Here too, the aim is to ensure legal continuity.
So whatever happens in the UK today, it seems that the “entente cordiale” between Switzerland and the UK will continue.
(Text partially excerpted from the Brexit Factsheet from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs)

 

charlie.hartmann@livinginluzern.swiss

Charlie Hartmann is the managing director of the Living in Luzern organisation which focuses on helping international residents connect, grow and thrive in Switzerland.

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