As of 1 January 2021, Switzerland's relations with the United Kingdom (UK) are governed by new bilateral agreements. Until then, 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 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.
Switzerland–UK relations post Brexit
- Signature of Social Security Agreement (9 September)
- Entry into force of Agreement on Mutual Recognition of AEO Status (1 September)
- Entry into force of new Swiss–UK agreements (1 January)
- Provisional application of EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (1 January)
- End of the EU–UK transition period (31 December)
- Signing of EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (30 December)
- Signing of EU–UK agreement concerning security procedures for exchanging and protecting classified information ('Security of Information Agreement', 30 December)
- Signing of Euratom–UK agreement (30 December)
- Signing of MoU on strengthening migration cooperation (21 December)
- Signing of Police Cooperation Agreement (15 December)
- Signing of Services Mobility Agreement (14 December)
- Signing of joint statement on deepening cooperation in financial services (30 June)
- Formal withdrawal of the UK from the EU (31 January)
- 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)
- Signing of the air transport agreement (17 December)
- 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)
- 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%)
The 11-month Brexit transition period agreed between London and Brussels expired on 31 December 2020, at which point the UK left the single market and customs union and EU international agreements ceased to apply in relation to the UK. This means that Switzerland and the UK moved to a new stage in their relations. Although the Switzerland-EU agreements continued to apply to the UK throughout the transition period, they ceased to apply from 2021 onwards. As of 2021, the follow-up arrangements apply, among them several new Switzerland-UK agreements.
These new solutions emerged on the Swiss side 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 nine agreements with the UK government.
The Agreement relating to Scheduled Air Services (signed on 17 December 2018) ensures that existing air transport rules will continue to apply in full, allowing air carriers to retain their current traffic rights. The agreement came 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 came 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 came into force on 1 January 2021.
The Trade Agreement (signed on 11 February 2019) transfers several existing trade and economic agreements with the EU to the future relationship between Switzerland and the UK. This includes the 1972 Free Trade Agreement, the 1999 Agreement on Government Procurement, the 1999 Agreement on Mutual Recognition in relation to Conformity Assessment (MRA), the 1999 Agreement on Agriculture, the 2004 Agreement on Combating Fraud, and the 2009 Agreement on Customs Facilitation and Security.
The Trade Agreement came into force on 1 January 2021. However, some of the aforementioned agreements, or parts thereof, are predicated on an alignment of rules between Switzerland and the EU. As a result, they do not apply to the relationship between Switzerland and the UK for the time being. They will only apply once the EU and the UK agree equivalent terms based on harmonised standards. This applies to the Customs Facilitation and Security Agreement, certain sectors under the Agricultural Agreement (e.g. veterinary standards), and most sectors under the MRA agreement, excluding motor vehicles, good laboratory practice, and good manufacturing practice for medicines (which account for two-thirds of trading volume).
Switzerland and the UK signed a Citizens' Rights Agreement on 25 February 2019 that protects the rights of Swiss citizens living in the UK – which they acquired under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) – such as residency rights, social security entitlements and the recognition of professional qualifications. Reciprocal conditions apply to UK citizens in Switzerland. As the approval process is still ongoing in Switzerland, the Citizens' Rights Agreement has applied on a provisional basis since 1 January 2021. In relation to social security, the agreement provides for a decision by the Swiss–EU Joint Committee under the AFMP, which extends the protection of rights to citizens of EU member states.
Regarding the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, individuals who have not yet submitted an application or who have started training towards, but not yet obtained the relevant
qualification, may apply for recognition of their qualifications by 31 December 2024. Applications will be reviewed in accordance with the criteria laid down in the AFMP. In this respect, nothing will change in the short term for Swiss and British nationals compared to the pre-Brexit situation.
The Services Mobility Agreement (signed on 14 December 2020) sets out the terms of mutual access and temporary stays for Swiss and British service providers, i.e. natural persons, such as IT specialists and engineers, supplying services in the other country. British service providers have access to the Swiss market for periods not exceeding 90 days per calendar year, while Swiss service providers have access to the UK market for periods not exceeding 12 months in any 24 month period (through market access commitments for over 30 services sectors and other preferential terms). The agreement also contains provisions on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. The agreement is initially limited to two years, and the contracting parties may jointly decide to extend its duration. The agreement applies on a provisional basis from 1 January 2021.
On 14 April 2021, the Federal Council adopted the agreement on the mutual recognition of authorised economic operators (AEOs) with the UK. The agreement is designed to make it easier for Swiss companies with AEO status to trade with the UK and vice versa, and to reduce technical barriers to trade. Companies with AEO status are considered particularly trustworthy, which is why they enjoy privileges in security-related customs controls and are entitled to simplified customs clearance. The agreement entered into force on 1 September 2021.
On 11 August, the Federal Council approved the agreement on social security coordination and signed it on 9 September 2021. The agreement ensures largely equal treatment for insured people and facilitates access to social security benefits. It also aims to avoid overinsurance and insurance gaps for people who come into contact with the Swiss and UK social security systems.
Switzerland and the UK signed an Agreement on Police Cooperation on 15 December 2020. The purpose of the agreement is to strengthen bilateral police cooperation, particularly in the fight against crime and terrorism. The agreement is intended to strengthen public security in both countries and further expand Switzerland's relationship with the UK (Mind the Gap+, see below). It is due to come into force in the second half of 2021.
Mind the Gap+
In addition to ensuring legal continuity, Switzerland's Mind the Gap strategy also provides for a possible further development of relations with the UK (Mind the Gap+). Discussions are currently ongoing regarding possible areas for enhanced cooperation where the two countries have common interests.
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 ceased to apply at the end of 2020, which means that access to the job market as of 1 January 2021 is 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.
Departments and offices involved
- State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO
- Federal Customs Administration FCA
- State Secretariat for Migration SEM
- Federal Social Insurance Office FSIO
- State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI
- Federal Office of Civil Aviation FOCA
- Federal Office of Transport FOT
- Impact of Brexit on the Lugano Convention
- State Secretariat for International Finance SIF
- Data protection: Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner FDPIC
- Brexit: Fact sheet
- Embassy of Switzerland in the United Kingdom
- FAQs from the Swiss embassy to the UK
- FDFA travel advice for the United Kingdom
- Flyer for Swiss citizens in the UK after Brexit (de, fr, it)