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Switzerland and Britain after Brexit: how does it affect British citizens?

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Switzerland has decided to permanently quit joining the European Union, formally withdrawing a request made in this regard, sitting in the drawers of EU’s officials buried for 24 years.

Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, forwarded a response to officials in Brussels to consider the application "as withdrawn" in June 2016. The event took place just a week before the referendum that decided the fate of Britain in the European Union, concluded as what is now known as “Brexit”.

Burkhalter said that a public consultation is not required in this respect, Switzerland not intending to join the EU bloc and it is considered "a sovereign and independent state".

Swiss Prime Minister Thomas Minder asked members of the inferior cabinet not to  unnecessarily lengthen the debate on the matter, a vote of 24 "for" and 13 "against" being enough for a quick procedure whereby Switzerland dropped the 24-year-old intention of joining the European political project.

Tensions between Bern and Brussels are registered since 2 years ago, when Switzerland has asked the EU to limit the number of migrants coming into the country. Officials quickly rejected the EU proposal based on trade agreements and free movement of persons signed between Switzerland and the EU.

What are the consequences of Brexit for Switzerland?

Considering that Switzerland neither is nor part of the European Union, nor does it intend to join it in the near future, Brexit has little implications. However, from an economical point of view, Brexit was a blown for Swiss exporters, as the Swiss franc was strengthened against the euro as a consequence of Great Britain’s intention to leave the European Union.

A delegation from Switzerland was set to visit Britain, to discuss the future economic ties and agreements following Brexit. This is necessary, as Britain will return to the EFTA intergovernmental trade organization and free trade area, joining Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Switzerland is interested in negotiating its own free trade agreement with Britain, which would come into force after Brexit officially takes place. Other topics to be discussed are open skies and airspace, security policy and tax agreements.

Switzerland’s agreements with the European Union

Switzerland and the European Union announced at the end of September 2016 that they are closer to reaching an agreement on limiting the number of immigrants in the confederation while maintaining access to the EU market. A new round of negotiations in this regard scheduled in October.

Brussels insists on the free movement of persons as a condition for Switzerland's accession to the European common market, according to bilateral agreements.

Although both sides say that it still requires efforts to reach an agreement, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said after a meeting with President of the Swiss Johann Schneider-Ammann that he would agree to a compromise proposal that would give priority to the employment of Swiss citizens, as long as this is agreed with the EU, according to Reuters.

On the other hand, things are more complicated when it comes to the decisions made on cantonal level. Voters in the Swiss canton of Ticino voted in September 2016 in a local referendum in favor of limiting the number of immigrant workers, vote criticized by the European Commission. A text entitled “Our people first” was adopted by 58% of participants in the local referendum in Ticino, in the southern Switzerland region.

The respective text requires that the Constitution of the canton should explicitly state “that on the labor market, the professionals established in that territory – with equal professional qualifications – will be privileged to those coming from abroad”, as a way to fight unemployment and wage dumping.

Certainly, Switzerland’s relationship will the European Union will always be subject to various renegotiations and agreements, but now it is time for the official to focus on Britain as well. Considering that Britain will be a part of EFTA, British citizens shouldn’t have a problem obtaining a work permit or doing business in Switzerland, if they met the requirements established by the Swiss law and bilateral agreements that are in order. 

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