Relations between Switzerland and the United Kingdom are close, but the prospect of Brexit has cast a dark cloud over Swiss citizens living in the UK, who are uncertain about what the future may hold.
We talked to three delegates from the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), to find out how their lives might change when the UK is no longer an EU member.
Nathalie Chuard is brand manager at Mondelez in Uxbridge, north London. She has worked for the multinational confectionery, food, and beverage company for seven years altogether, first in Switzerland and then in London. She fears that Brexit could threaten the performance of companies like hers.
Fellow OSA delegate, Vincent Croset, is a researcher in neuroscience at Oxford University. He told swissinfo.ch why he thinks academics are generally against Brexit.
Franz Muheim is a professor at the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics at the University of Edinburgh, and has lived in the UK for 19 years. He fears that Swiss people without British citizenship, like carers, pensioners and the young, may be asked to leave the country after Brexit.
He was so concerned, he wrote a letter to the Swiss ambassador to the UK, highlighting some of his fears: “The British government does not have an actual record of who is living legally in the UK. So there will need to be some process to give us certified residency or equivalent.”
He told swissinfo.ch he is also worried that a minimum income requirement might be introduced for Swiss living in the UK, similar to that currently facing citizens from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries who wish to join their spouses or civil partners in the UK. They have to earn £18,600 (CHF24,700) per year before tax. Switzerland is not a member of the EEA.
Tilman Renz, head of information at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs told swissinfo.ch that informal discussions are taking place with the UK authorities to provide guarantees for Swiss citizens living in the UK, who number 44,000. These informal talks form part of the ‘Mind the Gap Strategy’, which focuses on diverse aspects of future bilateral relations between Switzerland and the UK.
Renz explained, “The aim is to guarantee the rights of Swiss citizens living in the UK, even after the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Of course, such an agreement would also apply reciprocally to UK nationals living in Switzerland. Switzerland and the UK will discuss a possible CH-UK successor regime for the bilateral agreement on free movement of persons.”
This may take some time, however, as the UK cannot conclude contracts with third countries, which are within the competence of the EU, until the UK takes its leave. So the start of formal negotiations on the post-Brexit Switzerland-UK regime depends on the UK’s timetable for leaving Europe.
Important trading partner
Six percent of Switzerland’s exports go to Great Britain. According to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the UK was Switzerland’s fifth most important export market in 2015 (CHF 11.7 billion) and the eighth largest source of Switzerland’s imports (approx. CHF 6.5 billion).
Switzerland has something else in common with the UK: many Swiss distrust what they perceive as domination by Brussels. They accepted free movement of people between the Alpine country and the EU, in order to get full access to the Single Market.end of infobox