What is the Single Market?

The European Single Market is an agreement between the 28 EU member states and members of the European Economic Area (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland). It allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people.

What is the Customs Union?

The Customs Union consists of all 28 member states of the EU, Monaco, and some territories of the UK which are not part of the EU (such as the Channel Islands). Through separate agreements, the EU is in customs unions with Andorra, San Marino, and Turkey, with the exceptions of certain goods. The Customs Union abolishes all internal tariffs on goods and establishes a common external tariff on goods.

What is the difference between ‘a’ customs union and ‘the’ Customs Union?

Membership of ‘a’ customs union will require negotiations on a new UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe.

Does being in a customs union protect jobs and workers’ rights?

The only way to protect jobs and workers' rights is to remain in both the Single Market and Customs Union.

How can you maintain the exact same benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union?

The only way to ensure the exact same benefits is to remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union.

Do you have to be a member of both the Single Market and the Customs Union?

No. A country can be in the Single Market, but outside the Customs Union (such as Norway). Other countries, like Turkey, are in a customs union but not the Single Market.

What is the European Economic Area?

The area which provides for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market. Membership is open to EU member states or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. Three of the four member states of the EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) are in the EEA. Switzerland has not joined but has a series of bilateral agreements with the EU.

What is the difference between ‘access to’ or ‘tariff free access to’ and membership of the Single Market?

Apart from companies affected by sanctions, any business from any country has ‘access to’ the Single Market: they can sell in the European Union provided they follow the Single Market rules and standards, and the customer pays any relevant import tariff.

Tariff-free access means that the UK and the EU have negotiated a free trade deal similar to those negotiated with Canada, Switzerland or Ukraine, reducing or eliminating tariffs.

However, once you stop being a member of the Single Market and the Customs Union, non-tariff barriers such as divergent regulations, ‘rules of origin’ checks, and national rules and regulators which aren’t recognised by the EU mean that there will be significant obstacles to trade and investment.

How can a border between Ireland and the UK be prevented?

The Good Friday Agreement cannot be respected and there cannot be an open border in Ireland unless Northern Ireland is in both the Single Market and Customs Union.

Can Scotland remain a member of the Single Market?

The SNP wants Scotland to leave the single market with its largest trading partner – the UK – and the Tories want the UK to leave the Single Market with its largest trading partner – the EU.

The only way to prevent turbo-charged austerity and protect jobs is to remain in BOTH single markets. Scottish Labour is firmly opposed to Scottish independence because of the austerity it would cause for the most vulnerable in society.

Won’t becoming a member of the European Economic Area mean that we become a ‘rule taker’ rather than a ‘rule maker’?

A large part of the growth in trade within the single market has been due to the harmonisation of rules and standards such as, for example, safety regulations. These rules are shaped by the European Council of member states, the European Parliament and the Commission. Disputes eventually fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Norway, as a member of the EEA but not the EU, is sometimes said to be a ‘rule taker’ not a ‘rule maker’. Formally, as the EU makes new rules, the EEA has a committee which translates these into laws in EEA states and which match the EU law as closely as possible.  However, while Norway and other EEA countries do not have a final, formal vote on new laws, they:

  • are consulted on new EU rules including participating in shaping the draft legislation;
  • can refer EU laws to their own Parliaments when constitutional issues arise and can adapt EU law to an extent;
  • can refuse to incorporate EU law (a ‘right of reservation’), although this is done rarely, partly because the EU can take the counter-measure of suspending any trade agreement in the affected sector of the economy.

It is right that, were the UK to leave the EU, the UK would lose its direct role in EU decision making – although in future years, with EEA allies, the UK may be able to negotiate a better arrangement. Meanwhile, in practice many companies will adhere to EU rules and regulations in order to sell into the UK’s largest and most valuable export market.