Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter says Switzerland is prepared for Britain’s plans to leave the European Union – Switzerland’s main trading partner – in about 2019.
In interviews with several newspapers, Burkhalter said the government had approved a plan last June to adjust bilateral relations with Britain without leaving too much of a delay.
He said the Brexit decision opened up options.
“We want to improve relations in several fields. It is also an opportunity [for us], if not everything has to be done via the EU,” he told the Tages-Anzeiger and Bund newspapers in a syndicated interview. “We want good, maybe even closer ties with Britain. But we will not forge an alliance with Britain against the EU.”
Burkhalter admitted that there were several unknown factors but the Swiss government would soon discuss ways of launching negotiating mandates with Britain.
“Our goal is to have legal security as soon as possible,” he told the Wednesday edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper.
Swiss business leaders have expressed concern over a negative impact of Britain’s plan to leave the European single market.
They called on the Swiss government to hold talks with the British government as soon as possible, Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann told the Swiss News Agency.
He said stable relations with Britain were crucial for the Swiss banking sector and the pharmaceutical industry.
What Britain wants
The comments follow the British Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement on Tuesday to pursue a ‘hard-Brexit’ policy. Britain voted to leave the 28-nation bloc last June.
“At least we now know what the UK government wants and this is important for our ties with the UK,” said Burkhalter in an interview with SRF public television on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Britain joined the EU in 1973 and voted to leave it last year. Switzerland is not a member but has agreed more than 120 trade deals with Brussels. However, a 2014 decision by voters to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens has led to a temporary stalemate in relations.
However, a 2014 decision by voters to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens has led to a temporary stalemate in relations.
Rightwing and conservative EU critics are also considering plans to quit an accord on the free movement of people – one of the key tenets of the EU.