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07 January 2019

Brexit: Switzerland and the UK Guarantee Citizens' Existing Rights

At the end of 2017 an estimated 43,000 UK citizens were living in Switzerland and nearly 35,000 Swiss citizens were resident in the UK. In 2018 the UK was also the fifth largest export market for Swiss goods (CHF 11.4 billion). 

On 19 December 2018 the Swiss Federal Council approved an agreement with the UK on the rights of citizens following the UK’s leaving of the EU. The agreement safeguards the rights of Swiss and UK nationals acquired under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (“FMOPA”) signed between Switzerland and the EU.

All existing rules and agreements continue to apply in full until Brexit is implemented.

What does the agreement cover?

The agreement preserves the rights, after Brexit, of Swiss and UK citizens acquired under the terms of FMOPA, for example the right to live in the respective foreign country. Services being provided in either Switzerland or the UK can also be continued under the terms of the new agreement. Furthermore, the agreement regulates social security claims and the recognition of professional qualifications.

The rights granted in this agreement apply indefinitely. However, it should be noted that the agreement does not apply to UK and Swiss citizens who move to the respective foreign country after FMOPA ceases to apply.

How the agreement will be implemented

There are two possible scenarios for how the agreement may be implemented after Brexit:

  • Brexit with a withdrawal agreement

Presuming the withdrawal agreement is accepted by both the EU and the UK and comes into effect on 29 March 2019, there will be a transition period (provisionally until the end of 2020) during which the existing provisions of FMOPA will apply for relations between Switzerland and the UK. The agreement just approved by the Federal Council will in this case not come into effect until after the end of the transition period.

  • Brexit without a withdrawal agreement

If the withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK is not approved, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 without an agreement. In this case, the agreement between Switzerland and the UK will provisionally apply from 30 March 2019.

What are the next steps?

Parliamentary approval is required for the new agreement on the rights of citizens. In order to ensure this agreement can be implemented immedi­ately after 29 March 2019 if required, the responsible parliamentary commissions must vote for a provi­sional application of the agreement, which will happen early 2019. Provided that the vote is passed the Federal Council will then sign the agreement.

More generally, Switzerland wishes to ensure that the existing mutual rights and obligations in its relationship with the UK will continue to apply as much as possible after Brexit, and to possibly expand them in certain areas.

Charles Russell Speechlys can advise you in all immigration matters, notably relocation to Switzerland or to the UK.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Grégoire Uldry or Christophe Levet.

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