Greetings to all members of the British Residents’ Association and thank you for all the work you do to keep the engine of UK/Swiss relations running smoothly, and also helping to promote Britain, our values, our strengths and our outreach here in Switzerland.
Sitting here in my office and looking out of the window at Thunplatz in Bern, I can’t believe that I have now been here for just over a month. I was delighted that our Prime Minister was able to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, and had the opportunity to meet President Berset. This confirmed at the highest level our commitment to our bilateral relationship within a strong Europe as well as in the wider world.
I’m grateful to so many people for the information, friendship and advice that they have offered me, including Graham Robertson your chairman. I’m looking forward to meeting more of the BRA members, and hearing about your achievements, which I know cover all aspects of our bilateral relationship, from trade and technology to culture, education, research and tourism.
The UK and Switzerland have an incredibly close partnership, which is not always fully appreciated by people outside its immediate sphere of influence. We have a very healthy annual trade balance worth over £35bn, and companies have invested very heavily in services, pharmaceuticals, advanced manufacturing and retail on both sides. We are also pursuing research projects together, and I have seen some great examples of this, including CERN and the ABB “carbon capture and storage” pilot at Imperial College in London. We both promote entrepreneurship and innovation, so are in a good position to capitalise on new technologies including blockchain, digital finance, robotics, clean energy and medicines.
We have a large number of UK citizens living in Switzerland, and I am looking forward to meeting the heads of your regional chapters on 22nd February. I know that many of you have been asking some good questions about how your status will be treated through Brexit, and I am planning to hold Roadshow events in a number of cities in February and March to collate views and share some of the British Government’s plans and future thinking. I will host an event in Berne (22.02.) and plan to be visiting Geneva (23.02.), Basel (07.03.), Zurich (13.03.), Lugano (19.03.) and Vaduz (23.03.). I hope to see many of you at one of those events; more details to follow soon. I hope that you have already seen the note I sent round at the end of December, which explains that the agreement which the British Government reached with the EU on citizens’ rights in mid-December gives a high degree of certainty and security to existing citizens living in the EU, and the plan is to extend these rights and to all British citizens living in Switzerland and the EEA countries including Liechtenstein.
The consular support which we provide at the Embassy is also a vitally important part of our role, and I hope that you were not caught up in the avalanche risk areas during the ski season this year (or at least if you were that your hotel had a good supply of Glühwein to help get through the days when the lifts were out of action). In these circumstances, we keep our Travel Advice up to date and are always in close touch with the local authorities and travel companies so that we can provide additional advice and support to our citizens when they need it. We also have a twitter and facebook accounts where you can see information on what’s going on at the Embassy, and also get information in a crisis, so please make sure that you know how to access these.
As we move into 2018, I wish a happy and successful year to you and your families and thank you again for everything you do to make the relationship between the United Kingdom and Switzerland truly GREAT.