Brexit: Switzerland warned ‘EU under pressure’ as Bern and UK standoff with bloc

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The country’s finance minister, Ueli Maurer, was casting his view on Brexit negotiations as he warned that the UK could be a “serious competitor” to Switzerland as a low-tax business location after leaving the EU. He told the Financial Times in 2017 that the UK could “develop very positively” outside the EU, and argued Switzerland would also benefit from Brexit by gaining an ally outside the EU. He said that on freedom of movement, in particular, the EU has come under pressure and would be forced to make concessions to member states.

He said: “The free movement of people is an issue that the EU has to solve.

“They have to give countries more freedom, I believe, otherwise it could break up over this.

” The pressure is growing and so the EU will have to make certain concessions in favour of the member states.”

Mr Maurer’s comments struck a different tone to other European countries, many of whom had warned about the costs that Brexit could lead to.

Mr Maurer added: “The UK has lots of advantages and if they are used cleverly to decouple from the EU, as well as the new freedom in a good bilateral relationship, then the UK could develop very positively – I’m convinced of that.”

Brexit trade talks have erupted into chaos this week after Boris Johnson issued the EU an ultimatum.

As the Prime Minister seeks to change the terms of the withdrawal agreement, the deadlock mirrors that of Switzerland’s own negotiations with the EU last year.

Switzerland spent much of 2019 working on a partnership treaty with the EU, but the country’s economy minister criticised the bloc’s stance.

Guy Parmelin said he was pessimistic a deal could be reached as a result.

He said: “We want a good solution that can win majority support, and that is not the case at the moment.

“I don’t think we can wrap up this year. Our agenda and that of the EU allow a conclusion only next year at the earliest.”

He hit out at the bloc’s “dogmatic” approach to the negotiations.

Mr Parmelin warned the EU that the stalemate could force Switzerland to look for new partners such as the UK.

He continued: “I think the EU would weaken itself if it no longer cooperated with Switzerland on research.

“We are then forced to seek alternatives, perhaps along with Britain, if the EU remains dogmatic.”

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Brussels blocked EU-based investors from trading on Swiss bourses from July 1, 2019, as the row escalated over the treaty, which would have seen non-EU member Switzerland routinely adopt EU single market rules.

The Swiss retaliated by banning EU venues from hosting Swiss stock trading.

The Swiss will head to the polls on September 27 to decide whether or not the country should abandon a deal with the EU.

The referendum to abolish free movement of EU citizens across Switzerland represents a key moment in relations between Bern and Brussels, who have a chequered past.

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