Background briefing: Will the UK have “the exact same benefits” post-Brexit?

The UK Government have consistently insisted that post-Brexit the UK would be able to enjoy the exact same trade benefits as those it currently enjoys as a member of the Single Market and Customs Union. 

This commitment has, however, been flatly refuted by the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament as well as by the German Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The questions the Government now face are:

  • Does it stick by its pledge to secure the exact same trade benefits as we have inside the Single Market and Customs Union through a new Free Trade Agreement? 
  • Will Ministers now admit that the exact same benefits will not be on offer and our trade with the EU will be more restricted, with economic cost as a result?
  • What degree of economic cost does the Government think is acceptable in order to secure their intended new Free Trade Agreement? 

How the Government has promised the “exact same benefits”

  • Theresa May, Prime Minister: “It will be a different relationship, but I think it can have the same benefits in terms of that free access to trade.”

Source: BBC, 29 March 2017

  • David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union: “What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have.”

Source: House of Commons, 24 January 2017

  • Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: “What I said was that our objective would be to ensure that we would have continued access to the markets in Europe – and vice-versa – without tariffs and without bureaucratic impediments and that is how we will approach those negotiations.”

Source: BBC, 30 October 2017 

How the Government’s rhetoric collided with reality

  • Michel Barnier, European Commission Brexit negotiator: “the United Kingdom will naturally find itself in a less favourable situation than that of a Member State”

Source: European Commission press release, 22 March 2017

  • The European Parliament’s draft resolution on Brexit: “a State leaving the Union cannot enjoy similar benefits as an EU Member State”

Source: European Parliament, 29 March 2017

  • Sigmar Gabriel, German Foreign Minister: “It is clear that a partnership outside the European Union, as the United Kingdom is striving for, must necessarily be less than membership. A free trade agreement, however far-reaching and innovative it is, is inevitably less trade friendly than the barrier-free internal market.”

Source: The Guardian, 30 March 2017 

  • European Council Draft Brexit guidelines: “A non-member of the Union, that does not live up to the same obligations as a member, cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member.”

Source: European Council Draft guidelines following the United Kingdom's notification under Article 50 TEU 31 March

  • European Council Draft Brexit guidelines: “Any free trade agreement should be balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging. It cannot, however, amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof, as this would undermine its integrity and proper functioning.”

Source: European Council Draft guidelines following the United Kingdom's notification under Article 50 TEU 31 March