Swiss right-wing icon Blocher says will stay on to annoy enemies

ZURICH (Reuters) - Christoph Blocher, the combative populist who helped make the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) the dominant force in national politics, says he will push his anti-EU and anti-immigration campaigns even after quitting his last party post.

Former Swiss Minister Christoph Blocher gestures during a news conference on migration in Bern, Switzerland November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Under Blocher’s influence, the conservative SVP has developed a eurosceptic and anti-immigration agenda that has shaken up the cozy post-war consensual system prevailing in neutral Switzerland.

After announcing at the weekend that he would step down as deputy party leader in April, Blocher made clear in a newspaper interview published on Monday that he was by no means retreating from the political fray.

“To the annoyance of all my opponents I’m staying,” the unorthodox 75-year-old billionaire told the Blick tabloid, adding he was ready to use his vast wealth to help finance causes close to his heart.

“I won’t leave Switzerland or the SVP in the lurch.”

To his fans, Blocher is a heroic defender of traditional Swiss values who has turned a party of farmers and small businessmen into a political powerhouse. To critics he is a divisive figure whose anti-immigration policies have destabilized a once-safe haven for companies and investors.

“Unfortunately the people have to decide the important things such as deporting foreign criminals, preventing mass immigration, preserving independence and fighting EU membership because the other parties are deceiving the people,” Blocher told the paper, accusing rival parties of “dictatorial tendencies”.

Binding referendums decide most major policy issues under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

The next big test will be an SVP-inspired referendum next month on automatically kicking out foreigners convicted of some crimes, a step opposed by the government.

Blocher said he expected the measure to get a boost from mass attacks on women in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve, with investigations focused largely on asylum seekers or illegal migrants from north Africa.

“This is opening the eyes of people and hopefully of politicians and helps finally to deport criminals,” he said.

The SVP was the driving force behind a 2014 referendum which has forced the government to introduce new limits on immigration, threatening Swiss ties with the EU.

Blocher’s departure and news that party leader Toni Brunner will also not stand again open a new chapter for the SVP, which cemented its role as the biggest party in parliament in elections last year that paved the way for it to take a second seat in the seven-member cabinet.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Richard Balmforth