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EU and Brexit thoughts could disrupt PM May's Swiss holiday 'peace and quiet'

Published 11/08/2016

Theresa May will spend her holiday in Switzerland
Theresa May will spend her holiday in Switzerland

Theresa May could find it difficult to ignore Switzerland's immigration troubles with the European Union as she holidays in the country and mulls over how to deliver Brexit.

The Prime Minister has broken with predecessor David Cameron's habit of spending a few days in Britain before jetting off for a foreign break and is continuing her tradition of visiting the Alpine country with husband Philip.

Mr Cameron has repeatedly come under fire for urging Britons to take "staycations" but then enjoying sunshine breaks in the likes of Spain, Italy and Portugal combined with trips in the UK.

Mrs May is unlikely to suffer the mishaps which plagued the former PM, who has been stung by a jellyfish in Lanzarote, mocked for dressing on the beach under a Mickey Mouse towel, and criticised for his choice of clothes.

But she will hope she does not have to follow in the footsteps of Britain's only other woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who cut short a Swiss holiday in 1985 after the deaths of 55 people in the Manchester air disaster.

And, as many busy Britons discover on holiday, she may find it difficult to take her mind off work during the two-week break, given Switzerland's similarly strained relationship with the EU and its trouble implementing a referendum result.

The country is not a full EU member but enjoys a negotiated bilateral agreement which allows it some access to the single market with tariff-free trade and open access to the services market.

Its agreements go furthest in replicating EU benefits for a country outside the bloc, but it must also accept the free movement of people, pay into the union's budget and comply with single market regulations.

It is now embroiled in long-running talks with the union over how to implement a 2014 referendum result in which the Swiss people backed limiting immigration through quotas, including EU citizens.

The parallels with the UK are striking but Mrs May has previously revealed that she loves holidaying in the country because she can get some "peace and quiet".

She said she and her husband had "discovered the joys" of walking in the country "quite by chance".

In a piece for the Telegraph in August 2007, she said: "We first visited the country about 25 years ago but spent most of the time in Lucerne.

"On a return trip, we decided to go walking, enjoyed it and gradually began doing more adventurous hikes.

"We have been going back ever since and have walked all over the country."

Mrs May said in the piece that her two favourite areas are Zermatt and the Bernese Oberland, which are both "fantastic for walking".

She added: "If you're a keen walker, Switzerland is a wonderful summer destination: the views are spectacular, the air is clear and you can get some peace and quiet."

Downing Street said Mrs May remained in charge. She will be kept updated and briefed on events, with a senior Cabinet minister remaining in London.

Chancellor Philip Hammond will be in the capital this week.

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