Belfast Telegraph

UK faces decades of negotiations with EU, warns Swiss ambassador Fasel

Warning: Alexandre Fasel
Warning: Alexandre Fasel
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The UK will "never be finished" negotiating with the EU over the terms of its departure from the bloc, the Swiss ambassador to the UK has said.

As a summit of EU leaders in Brussels failed to reach an agreement on a Brexit deal, Alexandre Fasel said that the Government faces a perpetual state of negotiations, so long as the UK remains outside the EU. "Brexit will never be finished," he said

Swiss voters narrowly rejected membership of the European Economic Area, often called the Norwegian model, by just 25,000 votes in 1992.

It remains a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), allowing it to participate in the Single Market, with some exceptions, and it is within the Schengen area, which abolishes internal barriers across the single market.

Its relationship with the EU is also governed by dozens of bilateral agreements.

Speaking during an event organised by Swiss private banking group Julius Baer yesterday, Mr Fasel said: "I think what you are seeing now, the Brexit debate, that is the new normal. This is not going to stop until the last judgment, because the EU is not going to stop and you are always going to have to adapt to what the EU does. The only way for a European third country to settle the European question is to join the EU as a full member. Otherwise the question constantly remains open."

Mr Fasel said that despite the close nature of the 1992 vote, support for the EU in Switzerland has dwindled in the past two decades.

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"At that time opinion polls showed that approximately half of the electorate was in favour of fully fledged membership of the EU. That figure is now down to 11% in one generation, 25 years."

Predicting a similar scenario in the UK, he added: "The Swiss experience would suggest that in two decades it will not be 52-48%, it will be 80-20%."

Mr Fasel said Swiss euroscepticism had grown in response to the seemingly endless negotiations with the EU to retain trade connections.

"You are in a permanent state of negotiation to safeguard that.

"It's an asymmetrical situation, the big one is the EU and the small one is you. It's readily apparent in the case of Switzerland and, relatively speaking, it will also be the case for the UK.

"In such a situation, you don't always get your way. Of course the one to blame is the other one, and that solidifies the anti-European sentiments in the electorate. We have approximately 140 agreements," he continued.

"But every time you have a new agreement, that in turn alleviates the pressure to be a full-fledged member and solidifies the confidence to stay aloof from European integration."

Belfast Telegraph