Switzerland–UK relations post Brexit

Swiss and UK flags
Swiss and UK flags: the UK's withdrawal from the EU has an impact on relations with Switzerland. © FDFA

As of 1 January 2021, Switzerland's relations with the United Kingdom (UK) will be governed by new bilateral agreements. Until now, Swiss-UK relations in key areas, such as trade and migration, were based on the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union. As these will no longer apply to the UK as of 2021, the Federal Council has concluded new agreements based on its Mind the Gap strategy, which aims to ensure legal continuity and safeguard mutual rights and obligations. 

The 11-month Brexit transition period agreed between London and Brussels will expire on 31 December, at which point the UK will also leave the single market and customs union and EU international agreements will cease to apply in relation to the UK. This means that Switzerland and the UK will also be moving to a new stage in their relations. Although the Switzerland-EU agreements continued to apply to the UK throughout the transition period, they will cease to apply from 2021 onwards. As of 2021, the follow-up arrangements will apply, among them several new Switzerland-UK agreements. 

These new Swiss solutions emerged from the Mind the Gap strategy adopted by the Federal Council in October 2016, a few months after the Brexit vote on 23 June of that year. The objective of the Mind the Gap strategy was to safeguard and, where possible, build on the rights and obligations applicable between Switzerland and the UK. The Federal Council set up an FDFA-led interdepartmental steering group to coordinate the strategy.

Switzerland and the UK were largely able to retain their existing legal relationship. All in all, the Federal Council negotiated seven agreements with the UK government.

  • The Agreement on Scheduled Air Services ensures that existing air transport rules will continue to apply in full and allows air carriers to retain their current traffic rights. The agreement will come into force on 1 January 2021.

  • The Agreement on the International Carriage of Passengers and Goods by Road allows carriers to continue transporting goods without requiring an authorisation and ensures the continued transportation of people and goods between the two countries. The agreement will come into force on 1 January 2021.

  • The Agreement on Direct Insurance other than Life Insurance (signed on 25 January 2019) allows Swiss insurance companies active in direct insurance, to operate and establish branches in the UK (and conversely for British insurance companies). The agreement will come into force on 1 January 2021.

  • The Trade Agreement transfers several relevant agreements with the EU into the Swiss-UK relationship, including the Free Trade Agreement (1972), the Procurement Agreement (1999), the Mutual Recognition Agreement (1999), the Agriculture Agreement (1999), and the Anti-Fraud Agreement (2004). The Trade Agreement will come into force on 1 January 2021. Some of the replicated provisions will not apply from 1 January, as they depend on an equivalent arrangement between the UK and the EU.

  • The Citizens' Rights Agreement safeguards the rights of Swiss nationals resident in the UK under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP), i.e. rights of residence, social security entitlements and the recognition of professional qualifications. Reciprocal terms apply to British citizens in Switzerland. The agreement will provisionally apply from 1 January 2021. In relation to social security, a decision of the Swiss-EU Joint Committee for the AFMP will supplement the agreement and extend the protection of rights to citizens of EU member states.

  • The Services Mobility Agreement governs the short-term cross-border supply of services by natural persons. The agreement is initially limited to two years and will provisionally apply from 1 January 2021.

  • The Police Co-Operation Agreement strengthens and enhances Switzerland's cooperation with British law enforcement agencies, particularly in crime and terrorism prevention. This will improve the internal security of both countries and further develop relations with the UK (Mind the gap Plus). The agreement is due to take effect in the second half of 2021.

Alongside these seven agreements, Switzerland and the UK have also been determining the shape of their future relations. For instance, on 30 June 2020 the two countries issued a joint statement regarding closer cooperation on financial services. Switzerland and the UK issued another statement on 21 December 2020, which sets out their intentions to explore ways to enhance cooperation on migration. The Trade Agreement also includes provisions on further discussions between both countries in order to develop and intensify their economic and trade relations.

The free movement of persons between Switzerland and the UK will cease to apply at the end of 2020, which means that access to the job market after 1 January 2021 will be governed by national legislation. In Switzerland access to the job market is regulated by the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration. The Federal Council has also introduced a separate quota for 2021, allowing 3,500 UK nationals to work in Switzerland.

Chronology

2021

  • New Swiss–UK agreements apply (1 January)

2020

  • End of the transition period (31 December)
  • Signing of the police cooperation agreement (15 December)
  • Signing of the services mobility agreement (14 December)
  • Formal withdrawal of the UK from the EU (31 January)

2019

  • Signing of the citizens' rights agreement to address the expiry of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (25 February)
  • Signing of the trade agreement (11 February)
  • Signing of the overland transport agreement and insurance agreement (25 January)

2018

  • Signing of the air transport agreement (17 December)

2017

  • UK initiated the withdrawal process from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, withdrawal date originally set for: 29.03.2019 (29 march)

2016

  • Adoption of 'Mind the gap' strategy by the Federal Council (19 October)
  • UK's vote on withdrawal from the EU (23 June, leave: 51.9%)