The man who kept Switzerland at arm’s length from the EU reckons we would get a much better deal.
Before we vote Brexit I thought I’d pop over to Switzerland — courtesy of Die Weltwoche, the nearest local equivalent to The Spectator — to see how life will be once we escape the EU. Can confirm: it’s going to be great. We’ll be richer, freer and the views are fantastic: lakes and mountains so stupidly gorgeous that each time you look at them you think: ‘This is ridiculous. Nowhere could possibly be this ludicrously pretty.’ Then you go under a tunnel to the next valley where it’s just as lovely. It’s like gorging on a giant bar of hazelnut Lindt.
And — in their understated Swiss way — they love us British. Partly it’s because we created their tourist industry, first by sending over the Shelleys, Byron and various Romantic painters to discover ‘the sublime’ and create Gothic horror, then by inventing winter sports and — thanks to Thomas Cook — devising the Swiss-based package tour.
Partly it’s because we have so much in common. Robert Conquest once said that there are only two European democracies — Switzerland and Britain. Which may be why we both feel so unsuited to membership of the anti-democratic EU. This, certainly, is the view of elder statesman Christoph Blocher, the Swiss former MP largely credited with having kept Switzerland out of the EU. When we met at the Swiss federal parliament in the (almost unfeasibly pleasant) capital Berne he enumerated our similarities.
‘One, England has always had a very big sense of sovereignty — “we are Britain and we are doing this”. Two, freedom is very important to England. You have an older tradition than countries like Germany which didn’t exist before 1871 and has only been a democracy since 1945. And three, you are an island and Switzerland is an island too. We are an island without a sea.’
Free-market, anti-immigration, anti-EU, Blocher has dragged Switzerland’s famously dull political system inexorably right. Few Swiss would admit how much they admire him in public — in the rural heartlands where his SVP has its power base, maybe, but definitely not in the liberal-left cities — like Nigel Farage, he is very much a Marmite figure.
‘There are only two groups — those who hate me and those who think I’m a hero. It doesn’t bother me. When you have a clear position it must be so,’ says Blocher, 75, a self-made billionaire whose personal hero is Winston Churchill. Though he lives in style in a lakeside mansion, his manner is warm and down-to-earth.
Read the rest at the Spectator.