This site contains government information on the EU referendum. No material was published on this website between 27 May and 23 June 2016, in line with the restrictions set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Alternatives to membership

The EU referendum takes place on the 23rd June. On this page you'll find some frequently asked questions on possible alternatives to EU membership and the Government's answers to these questions.

If the UK votes to leave the EU, couldn’t we have a deal like the one Canada has with the EU?

The Canada-EU deal would not be suitable for the UK. Trying to negotiate a deal along these lines would mean years of uncertainty for UK trade. The Canada-EU deal took seven years to negotiate and it is still not yet in force. The Canada deal offers less access for services than the Single Market, which is important to the UK as services make up nearly 80% of our economy. It also offers less liberalisation in areas such as agriculture meaning that, for example, beef exports to the EU beyond an agreed quota would face tariffs.

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner – 44% of our goods and services exports go there. Trying to negotiate a deal along these lines would also mean years of uncertainty for UK trade. Canada’s largest trading partners are in North America. Only 8.7% of Canadian exports go to the EU. Canada is therefore far less reliant than the UK on full access to the EU’s Single Market.

Why would the UK not be like Switzerland and Norway, and thrive outside the EU?

The Norway model includes many of the key obligations of EU membership, and Norway makes significant contributions to EU spending. According to an independent study for the Norwegian Government, Norway has had to incorporate approximately three-quarters of all EU laws into its own domestic legislation, but without a say in how those rules are made. It has had to accept the free movement of EU migrants into the country to live and work and it has chosen to be part of the Schengen border-free area. Norway has a higher share of EU migrants per person than the UK.

Switzerland’s arrangements with the EU replicate many of the benefits of EU membership, but come with obligations including accepting the free movement of EU migrants, making a contribution to EU spending, and compliance with the majority of rules governing the Single Market, once these have been decided by EU members.

If there was a vote to leave, couldn’t the UK just trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules?

WTO rules mean that the EU, and all countries with which we currently have trade deals, would have no choice but to apply WTO tariffs on exports from the UK, putting our companies at a competitive disadvantage. Treasury modelling has estimated that after 15 years, the UK would be between 5.4 per cent and 9.5 per cent of GDP better off inside the EU than we would be if we adopted WTO rules. In 2015 terms, leaving the EU and relying on WTO rules could mean a relative loss of GDP of £5,200 a year per household.

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