WHAT’S so great about living in Switzerland? Well, the flag is a big plus. Yes, I know – most jokes about this small, mountainous, landlocked country are dire. Something to do with that famously dismissive remark about Switzerland’s greatest achievement in history being the cuckoo-clock – people just don’t have very strong feelings about the country. Mind you, it has the highest income in the world, hasn’t been in a war since 1815, and could be seen as a possible model for a non-nuclear, independent Scotland.

Oh, and it isn’t in the European Union, the Customs Union or the European Economic Area, which are three reasons why Switzerland has become flavour of the month on the Tory back benches. As Theresa May faces yet another defeat this week in the Commons, a raft of Brexit luminaries like the MEP Daniel Hannan and the Times commentator Dominic Lawson have popped up saying that Switzerland should be the model for an “independent” United Kingdom.

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This follows a lecture last week by Professor Michael Ambuhl, who used to lead negotiations with the EU for the Swiss government. He said that the whole issue of a hard border in Northern Ireland, post Brexit, was a nonsense. Of course you can have a frictionless border, he said, “with a snap of your fingers”. After all, thousands cross the Swiss border every day. He is correct – though many who have actually crossed the Swiss border says it’s far from frictionless in practice. But it is true that Switzerland has no hard border with the EU. However, I’m not sure the Brexiters have quite thought this one through.

First of all, Switzerland has accepted free movement of people since 1999, which is supposed to be anathema to red-blooded, Brexit Britons. Worse, unlike the UK, Switzerland joined the Schengen passport-free zone in 2008, which Brexiters claim is responsible for spreading Islamic terrorism and other horrors. The far right parties in Switzerland want to renegotiate this because they think their borders are just too open, but the EU is refusing to budge.

Theresa May has repeatedly said that free movement is not acceptable because Britain has to “take control of her borders”. She also insists that Britain must “take control of her money”, yet Switzerland pays into the coffers of the EU in order to gain access to the European single market, which is essential for the wellbeing of its lucrative pharmaceutical industry. It also accepts the euro for all intents and purposes with shops, ATMs and vending machines all using the currency along side the Swiss franc.

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As for Britain “taking back her laws”, Switzerland is subject to the principle laws of the single market but has no say in them. It is one of the founding members of EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, which has its own court, which mostly recognises the rulings of the hated (by Tories) European Court of Justice. Switzerland is also a decentralised federation in which citizens have a right to a referendum on key issues. They had one last year on the Universal Basic Income (it lost). Voters have blocked formal membership of the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) over the years, so instead Switzerland has negotiated 120-odd bilateral deals adopting all the key rules of the single market, now and in the future, without actually joining it.

Theresa May could say that Switzerland has a “bespoke arrangement” but it is very much bespoke on Brussels terms. Switzerland is not in the Customs Union so it can negotiate deals with third (non-EU) countries, to a limited extent. Nor is it subject to the Common Agricultural Policy or directly under the sway of the European Court. However, this autonomy comes at a considerable cost, and not just because the Swiss accept free movement. Switzerland is in much the same relationship to the EU as Norway, in that it accepts all the terms and costs of membership without having any say in their formulation.

However, if this is now to be seen as the model for post-Brexit UK – a kind of Switzerland-on-sea – then a lot of people will say “bring it on”, not least in Scotland. This is pretty much the bespoke arrangement that the Scottish Government proposed in the 2016 Brexit White Paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe. It would certainly allow Scotland to continue to bring in workers from the rest of Europe, because Britain would not only be accepting free movement, it wouldn’t even require passports. And the Swiss currency compromise, whereby the euro is freely in use, could also make life easier in the UK since people could use it in the shops. Switzerland is a similarly a member of most EU bodes like the environmental agency, ERA, Euratom, Europol, Horizon.

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Of course, the Swiss model is not as good as membership of the European Union itself, mainly because it doesn’t have any representation in EU institutions like the parliament or the EU Council. It has no say in the running of the market on which its trade is dependent or in other laws. But if the Brexiters are now selling this as Britain’s future, then perhaps we should be encouraging them. Better a sinner repenteth. It would almost certainly resolve the Irish border issue because Britain would be in full alignment with the single market.

However, let’s be clear: Switzerland is in the EU in all but name. Its economy is wholly reliant on it and it has accepted all the supposedly objectionable aspects of the European Union, above all, the abolition of borders. It may seem bizarre that the Brexiters have persuaded themselves that this borderless state of dependency is a suitable destiny for an independent UK. Perhaps they realise they’ve lost the argument and are seeking a face-saving solution.

UK voters are increasingly recognising that the Brexit case is full of holes and are looking for a way to limit the damage. As for Remainers – don’t diss the Swiss. They should see this as a bridge-head back into the European Union, because that is precisely what it is.