David Cameron
UK Prime Minister David Cameron backs a renegotiated, but continued membership of the EU after the referendum Reuters

A surprise referendum result in Switzerland that is shaking the alpine state's ever-fraught relationship with the European Union has ramifications for the UK, as it prepares for its own poll on whether or not to stay in the single market.

Swiss voters decided by a narrow margin to impose tighter rules on EU migrants to Switzerland. This is on the cusp of bringing down a historic set of trade agreements between Switzerland and the EU, of which it is not a member, because one of the supporting pillars of the overarching deal is free movement of labour.

The UK is preparing for a potential 2017 referendum on its membership of the EU after the governing Conservative party called for the poll. British critics of the EU say it is undemocratic, bureaucratic, wasteful of money and erodes national sovereignty.

"I think the mere fact of holding the referendum will obviously encourage a lot of people in the UK to say look, it works in Switzerland, we should also be able to have a say on our relationship with the EU," said Pawel Swidlicki, a researcher at the Open Europe thinktank, to IBTimes UK.

"And obviously the immigration aspect of the EU is a big part of the current angst about Britain's EU membership.

"In terms of the longer-term implications and the degree to which the new deal that Switzerland will now have to strike with the EU – it remains to be seen what kind of new terms the Swiss are offered."

The EU is Switzerland's biggest trading partner. Switzerland is the EU's fourth largest.

Within the EU-Switzerland agreement is a so-called "guillotine clause" that allows the EU to pull out if one of the conditions – which includes the free movement of labour – changes.

As a result of the referendum, the Swiss government has three years to come up with tighter rules for EU migrants after 50.3% of those polled backed stricter terms amid concern over the pressure to the country's infrastructure from a bloating population.

Swidlicki said should Switzerland tell the EU it is going to restrict the migration of its citizens, it is likely to face a limiting of its access to the single market and a significant renegotiation of the trading relationship between the two.

Many of those backing the UK to stay in the EU ahead of the referendum, including Prime Minister David Cameron, want to renegotiate the terms of its membership and restrict the power Brussels holds over Westminster.

"Potentially the kind of deal that Switzerland get could be quite informative to the kind of deal the UK could get if it were to leave the EU and then have to try and negotiate a new trading relationship," Swidlicki said.

"The question is, will we potentially be looking at tariffs or will the EU toughen things like product standards, those informal trade barriers. That's something to keep an eye out for.

"I think countries like the UK will be keen on not punishing the Swiss too much for this, so I think there will be tension in the EU as to how tough to be with Switzerland."

The European Commission said in light of the Swiss referendum result it will "examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole".