For guidance on how the EU might deal with Britain when it leaves the club, look no further than Switzerland.
Surrounded by the EU, the Alpine state is the EU’s third biggest economic partner, while the EU is Switzerland’s biggest trade partner.
Unlike the UK, Switzerland is not famous for its bellowing bellicosity, and on the surface relations between it and the EU seem as smooth as the service at a Geneva hotel.
But that is the surface. And you don’t have to delve too deeply to find some jagged rocks and treacherous undercurrents.
Or you could just read the conclusions issued today from the Council of the European Union on “relations with the Swiss confederation”.
Three years ago the Swiss held a “popular initiative” or referendum on a proposal called “against mass immigration”.
This left the Swiss government in a jam – it wanted closer relations with its main trading partner, including access to the EU single market.
But the EU countries said (and said again in the statement today) that “the free movement of persons is a fundamental pillar of EU policy and that the internal market and its four freedoms are indivisible” (that’s people, goods, capital and services).
Switzerland and the EU had a Free Movement of Persons Agreement (FMPA) with the EU to facilitate its access to the single market and EU citizens’ access to Switzerland for work.
But this was thrown into doubt by the referendum outcome.
Since then the Swiss government has tried to find a way to finesse the implementation of the will of the people in such a way that it doesn’t get shut out of its biggest and most important market.
Just before Christmas the Swiss federal assembly adopted a legal text to implement the referendum outcome.
Today the Council of the EU said this text “can be implemented in a manner compatible with the rights of EU citizens under the Free Movement of Persons Agreement if the necessary implementing ordinance clarifies outstanding open issues”.
Quite a mouthful – but it seems to mean that if the Swiss implementing law tidies up a few matters (like telling EU citizens about job opportunities and – important for Ireland – the procedure for adopting any further measures particularly regarding frontier workers’ rights), then the Swiss can continue to have easy access to the world’s biggest trading bloc.
So in a post–Brexit world, this will be the precedent for dealing with a country that wants to shut EU citizens out of its labour market, but still expects easy access to the single market.
And at its heart is something fans of the Good Friday Agreement will recognise – permanent institutions.
Under the FMPA there is a joint EU-Swiss committee to sort out any issues arising under the agreement.
The Swiss have indicated their willingness to use this institution to help finesse the December 2016 law on mass immigration. The council says it is “encouraged” by this.
Switzerland wants to develop its links with the EU on a sector by sector approach.
The council “notes” this, but says a precondition for taking this approach any further is “the establishment of a common institutional framework for existing and future agreements through which Switzerland participates in the EU’s single market”.
It says this is to ensure “homogeneity and legal certainty for citizens and businesses”.
And it says the sides need to finalise negotiations on an institutional framework “as soon as possible”.
Only then will the EU-Swiss comprehensive partnership “develop to its full potential”. So sign up for institutions or take the slow train to the EU market.
The EU faces blockages to trade in agri-food and services, and is using the current impasse to put the squeeze on the Swiss for market access.
Or remedying “asymmetries in bilateral economic relations”, as the bureaucrats put it.
In particular it wants the Swiss to stop introducing federal or canton level laws that undermine existing agreements, especially the Free Movement Agreement, and repeal the “flanking” measures already in place.
There is, just like Brexit, a money row here to. The Swiss have to pay up for market access.
The EU justifies the payment thus: “This financial contribution is intended to reduce economic and social disparities in the EU and should be proportionate to the substantial benefits Switzerland draws from its participation in the Single Market”.
The Swiss passed a new legal basis for paying into the EU budget last September, and the EU wants them to get on with discussions on renewing their financial contribution as soon as possible.
Again, all this is precedent for dealing with the UK after Brexit.
The EU is also pressing Switzerland to end five tax regimes that it considers to be harmful tax competition.
A bill to end the practices failed in the Swiss parliament on 12 February.
Stressing the “need for fair tax competition” the EU wants the Swiss to find another way to end these regimes “in line with the 2014 joint statement on company tax issues”.
It also welcomes Swiss co-operation in justice and home affairs policies, particularly “implementing the European Agenda on Migration”, and it welcomed Swiss participation in EU foreign and security policy initiatives and missions, such as a civilians security sector reform programme in Ukraine, and the EU CSDP mission in Mali, and its continuing assistance in implementing sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.
All told there is plenty here for pondering how the EU will deal with Britain in the not too distant future.
And the Swiss have extended the benefits of the FMPA to Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.
In return the Swiss appear to have got “full association” to the Horizon 2020 programme of scientific research funding (which has claimed to be the biggest single science fund in the world).
The deal also re-opens the prospect of Switzerland joining the Erasmus student exchange programme.
This one is being dangled in front of them as the carrot for continuing to finesse the deal in ways the EU likes.