Here you will find information covering every aspect of the UK's relationship with the EU.
We hope you find this resource useful. Click on the index items below to explore.
The UK’s membership of the EU is one of the fundamental political questions facing this country. However, It can be complicated to explain what the EU is and does. This section covers the basics.
The debate about the EU in Britain is strikingly ill-informed. We have all heard people claiming that Britain “joined a Common Market, not a European Union” or that the “Common Agricultural Policy has never been reformed”. Assertions like this are made daily in Britain with their promoters having no idea whether these claims are true. The British EU debate is often based on emotion and prejudice rather than fact and evidence. Before we can ask the people to decide a great question like our membership of the EU, we have a duty to ensure that they are informed of both sides of the argument.
The European Union is a unique international organisation. It is made up of seven institutions and is governed by two principal treaties. Its budget is set by and paid for by all Member States.
EU membership gives the UK access to the world’s largest single market of over 500 million consumers.
EU membership allows the UK a say in the rules which govern the single market and puts us in a position to push for its completion.
EU membership enables the UK to use the greater weight of the EU to get better trade deals with other countries than we could obtain on our own.
EU membership gives the UK a more powerful voice in a world where power is shifting to China and other emerging economies.
EU membership allows UK nationals freedom of movement throughout the EU, and gives British business access to a single market for labour.
The European Parliament has 751 members and is directly elected by the citizens of Member States.
The European Council is a strategic and agenda-setting body made up of the heads of state or government of each Member State.
The European Commission is nominated by the European Council and approved by the Parliament and is made up of one Commissioner from each Member State; it proposes most EU laws.
The Council of the European Union is made up of the relevant ministers from each Member State and it has to approve (usually with the Parliament) the EU’s laws.
The European Court of Justice is the Supreme Court of the European Union.
The EU was originally founded as the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community in 1957. The EEC changed its name to the European Union with the ratification of the Maastricht treaty.
The Maastricht and Rome treaties, which form the legal basis of the EU, were amended in 2009 by the Lisbon Treaty. The Treaties are called: The Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The EU is established as an international organisation whose members have agreed to pool part of their sovereignty for their common benefit. The EU’s direct authority is limited to specific areas (known as “competences”) and mainly concerns business matters, agriculture and fisheries and – for the eurozone – the single currency. The EU has more limited authority in other policy areas.
The EU agrees its spending in five yearly plans; the final decision requires unanimous agreement. Annual budgets are then proposed by the European Commission and adopted (after amendment) by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament. The annual budgets must stay within the agreed overall spending envelope.
The budget is mostly focused on spending to create growth and jobs and reducing the economic gaps between the different regions of the EU. The five year budget for 2014-20 was the first to be lower than that for the previous five years.
The EU cannot borrow, so its budget must balance and its ability to raise revenue is determined by the Member States, who must agree the arrangements unanimously.
By way of comparison, the UK’s national budget is five times the EU budget.
The UK’s first two applications were rejected but the third application in 1971 was accepted and the UK joined in 1973.
The debate about British membership went on throughout the 1960s and 1970s, right up to the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should stay in.
Our prosperity is inextricably linked to world markets. Being in the EU Single Market attracts investment from outside the EU and gives the UK greater clout when negotiating new trade deals with the rest of the world
Goods – Economic benefit: Open access to a Single Market of 500 million consumers, no intra-EU tariffs on the £40bn of UK exports to the EU.
Services – Economic benefit: Open access to the Single Market for British service providers in many sectors – UK services exports to the EU are worth over one and a half times more than those to the USA, and six and a half times more those to the BRICS countries.
People – Freedom of Movement has allowed for UK citizens to live, study, set up a business, work and retire across the EU; enables British companies and organisations to meet critical skills shortages easily (e.g. the NHS).
Capital – has allowed British companies and citizens the freedom to set up bank accounts, borrow capital, invest and buy property anywhere in the Single Market.
Being in the EU Single Market attracts companies from outside the EU to invest in the UK (e.g. car manufacturers from Japan, pharmaceutical companies from the US and Chinese infrastructure investors).
EU FDI is vital to the UK’s economy: European FDI in the UK is worth £543.7 billion.
Net earnings for UK companies with FDI in Europe totalled £30.8 billion in 2012.
The EU has facilitated FDI flows between the UK and the EU: 53.7% of UK’s FDI goes to the EU.
Withdrawal from the EU would cost the UK 2.25% of GDP over time, largely from lost FDI flows.
Financial services are a critically important economic sector in the UK, generating 12 per cent of income tax receipts.
61 per cent of the EU’s net exports in financial services come from the UK and the financial services sector consists of 1.1 million jobs.
The UK currently has a stake worth 36 per cent of the EU’s financial wholesale market.
The European Parliament legislates to provide strong consumer protection in the UK and across Europe.
EU action has improved product safety across the EU, allowing for greater levels of safety for customers.
Consumer protection harmonises strong standards of consumers’ rights across the EU, increasing trade within the EU.
Completing the DSM by 2020 would increase the EU’s GDP by 4 per cent.
Completing the DSM includes efforts to roll out high-speed broadband across Europe to make sure all EU citizens are online and equalising roaming charges so that it costs citizens the same amount of money to use their phones throughout the EU.
Further integration of the single energy market in the EU is a vital key to the UK’s prosperity as we are no longer a net exporter of energy because of the depletion of North Sea oil.
A more competitive European market in energy means lower costs for consumers and companies in Britain; electricity prices have declined by 33 per cent between 2008 and 2012.
Cross border trading of energy through inter-connectors makes us less reliant on unstable regions of the world for our energy.
By negotiating as part of the world’s largest single market bloc, the UK is able to get much better terms and access than it would if it were negotiating by itself.
The EU has nearly 50 free trade agreements in place and is negotiating many more.
Being part of the European Union does not inhibit its members from exporting to new and emerging markets – Germany exports more to the emerging economies of Brazil, India, China and South Africa than the UK does.
Bolstering the economy: TTIP could boost the EU’s economy by £94 billion and £10 billion to the UK’s economy.
Increasing exports: Imports would increase by 1% and 2.5% and output would increase by 7.3% in the UK.
ISDS clauses: The NHS has been safeguarded against potential ISDS clauses.
CETA to improve UK-Canada trade: UK-Canadian trading was worth up to £12.5 billion in 2013, with CETA expecting to increase that figure to £20.2 billion.
Increasing exports and jobs: Increase of exports of 33%, and create thousands of new jobs.
A Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is necessary because fish don’t stay in one country’s territorial waters
The working of the CFP has been unsatisfactory for many years – it is now being reformed; for example, discards of fish will be banned by 2019.
Reform has brought about a decentralised decision-making system, allowing countries to agree on the measures that suit their fisheries.
The CAP aids in regulating the price and supply of food to Europe. Without the CAP, the UK would be vulnerable to fluctuating food prices and an unstable, imported supply.
The CAP funds support extensive rural development programmes in the UK.
The CAP also protects the food quality and authenticity of products from the UK and the rest of the EU.
Increasingly, the CAP focuses on protecting the environment. Farmers receive extra funding for reducing the number of chemicals employed in their agricultural processes and for protecting local wildlife and the natural environment.
The CAP is constantly evolving; the cost has fallen from 70 per cent of the EU’s budget to 40 per cent and it is still falling.
Certain areas of the UK, notably Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, West Wales and the Valleys, benefit from EU structural funds.
The EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 will invest €11.8bn in the UK’s regions, cities, and local economies. Of this, €2.6bn will go to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, West Wales and the Valleys.
€2.5bn will go to “transition regions” such as the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as well as Cumbria and Yorkshire.
Between 2007 and 2013, structural and cohesion funds enabled the UK to create more than 87,000 jobs and help start up more than 29,000 businesses.