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It's official: Switzerland defies referendum and won't impose EU immigration controls

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It's official: Switzerland defies referendum and won't impose EU immigration controls
File photo: The Local
11:24 CET+01:00
The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has denounced Switzerland’s “capitulation” on immigration as parliament confirms its ‘light’ solution to the February 2014 anti-immigration referendum.

On Friday the two houses of parliament took a final vote on the subject, the detail of which was agreed earlier this week, confirming the country would not be imposing quotas on immigration from the EU as voted for by the public in the ‘against mass immigration’ referendum in 2014.

Instead, unwilling to upset the country’s relationship with the EU, MPs have agreed a ‘light’ solution that will see unemployed domestic workers given preference over EU nationals for jobs in Switzerland.

On Friday the Council of States – Switzerland’s upper house – voted in favour of the new law by 24 to 5, with 13 abstentions, reported news agency ATS.

The lower house followed with 98 votes to 67 and 33 abstentions.

The move was denounced by the SVP, which had backed the 2014 referendum and was strongly in favour of imposing quotas on immigration from the EU.

The ‘light’ solution is a capitulation to pressure from the EU and violates the Swiss constitution, ATS reported the SVP’s Adrian Amstutz as saying.

The party may now launch a new popular initiative calling for the country to end its bilateral agreement with the EU over the free movement of people, the cause of three years of debate and anguish in parliament.

Implementing the 2014 initiative to the letter would have contravened free movement, something the EU was not willing to accept. Switzerland would therefore have risked the EU pulling out of many other bilaterals between the two, affecting trade, scientific research and Swiss students studying abroad, among other things.

But diverging so far from a constitutionally-binding referendum provoked an outcry among many in politics and the Swiss press when the idea was first suggested.

It remains to be seen how the EU will respond to the Swiss decision.

If it feels that the ‘light’ solution does not contravene free movement, the two countries can move forward with their bilaterals intact.

But some in Brussels may feel that the Swiss changes to the job market could discriminate against EU nationals.

The Swiss decision should be keenly observed by Britain’s Brexit government, also tackling the issues of free movement and immigration as it negotiates a way forward outside the EU.

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