Benefits of EU membership

Initially conceived as a peace project, the EU has transformed into the largest and most successful trading block in the world.

Around 45% of the UK’s exports, and 55% of imports, are with our trading partners in the European Union. Key to this is the single market and customs union, guaranteeing free and frictionless trade between over 500 million people. On top of that, free movement means we, and our children, can travel, work, marry and retire in any country in Europe. Economies of scale mean we share the bureaucracy of government, making shared projects much cheaper.

The EU is a peace project

Following the Second World War, Winston Churchill was convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. His aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all.

“It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom… We must build a kind of United States of Europe.” – Winston Churchill, 1948

The EU provides a counterweight to the global power of the US, Russia and China. With Donald Trump in the White House the UK’s strongest natural allies are France, Germany and our other West European neighbours. No wonder Russia and America are actively interfering in UK politics to destabilise the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Financial benefits of membership

The UK contributes roughly 0.4% of its GDP to the EU budget, giving us access to the world’s largest and most successful trading block of over 500 million people, that’s access to a single market worth approx $16.6 trillion. For most people in the UK, this contribution is smaller than the cost of a TV licence. (see diagram below).

There are 27 other countries in the EU with which we have full, free and frictionless trade (no tariffs or trade barriers). The EU has a 40 or so trade deals with other countries and further 22 trade deals are in negotiation. Together, that’s 27 of the world’s top 30 countries by GDP.


The EU is a springboard for trade with the rest of the world through its global clout: it accounted for 23% of the global economy in 2012 in dollar terms. Through the trade deals negotiated by the EU, including the Single Market itself, British firms have full access to a $24 trillion market. The recent deal with Canada and on-going discussions with Japan and the US could double this to $47 trillion – the UK would struggle to achieve the same quality of trade deals independently.

Free movement of labour helps UK business plug skills gaps. 63% of CBI members say that the ability to recruit and transfer staff from across the EU has been positive for business, including 48% of SMEs. Overall only 1% of members said the impact had been negative – and only 2% of SMEs said it had been negative. UK citizens have also benefited from free movement of labour – at least three-quarters of a million live in other EU countries.

Tariff-free trade through our 60+ trade agreements with the EU means we pay less for food, clothing and alcohol. Tariffs drive up prices, and non-tariff barriers, such as regulations, slow down movement of goods and also increase costs. Recently Michael Gove confirmed that food prices will increase in a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, because leaving the EU with no deal means we lose the 60+ free trade deals we have.

Just-in-time supply chains with the EU speed up the flow of goods across borders, while zero tariffs means costs for manufactured goods such as cars are cheaper. The standard WTO tariff on automobiles is 10%.

Environmental protection

The EU has some of the world’s highest environmental standards. Environment policy helps the EU economy become more environmentally friendly, protects Europe’s natural resources, and safeguards the health and wellbeing of people living in the EU.

EU environmental policies and legislation protect natural habitats, keep air and water clean, ensure proper waste disposal, improve knowledge about toxic chemicals and help businesses move toward a sustainable economy.

On climate change, the EU formulates and implements climate policies and strategies, taking a leading role in international negotiations on climate. It is committed to ensuring the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement and implementing the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). In this regard, EU countries have agreed to meet various targets in the years to come. The EU seeks to ensure that climate concerns are taken on board in other policy areas (e.g. transport and energy) and also promotes low-carbon technologies and adaptation measures.

EU environment policy is based on Articles 11 and 191-193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Under Article 191, combating climate change is an explicit objective of EU environmental policy. Sustainable development is an overarching objective for the EU, which is committed to a ‘high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment’ (Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union).

An important aspect of the EU’s role in environmental protection is that because the EU is out of the cut-and-thrust of daily politics the environment doesn’t become a political football subject to the whims and events of politicians.

Fundamental rights

Human Rights are protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter brings together all the personal, civic, political, economic and social rights enjoyed by people within the EU in a single text.

It was introduced to bring consistency and clarity to the rights established at different times and in different ways in individual EU Member States.

The Charter sets out the full range of civil, political, economic and social rights based on the fundamental rights and freedoms recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights, and the constitutional traditions of the EU Member States, for example, longstanding protections of rights which exist in the common law and constitutional law of the UK and other EU Member States.

Protecting workers rights

Limits on working hours
Introduced in the UK in 1998, the EU’s working time regulations mean employees cannot be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours a week. Workers can choose to opt out, and there are some exceptions – including emergency service workers, soldiers, servants in private households and fishermen – but this EU law helps stop bosses forcing their employees to work unhealthy hours. It also prevents young people being exploited by stating workers under the age of 18 cannot work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. The UK government resisted the controversial working time laws during EU negotiations and a future government could amend them.

Time off
The Working Time Directive also made days off a legal requirement. Companies have to give staff a minimum of 48 hours off work per fortnight and a rest time of at least 11 consecutive hours (12 hours for young people) every day. This is designed to stop workers being exploited and becoming unwell because of being overworked. The rules also include protections for night workers, ensuring they cannot work an average of more than eight hours a day and must be offered free health checks.

Annual leave
EU rules also secure British workers’ legal right to paid annual leave. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the introduction of these laws gave six million Britons better rights to paid leave, including two million workers who had previously not been entitled to any paid leave at all. EU directives say workers must be given at least four weeks (20 days) of paid leave per year. This is less than the UK’s legal requirement of 28 days of annual leave, but the EU rules acted, until now, as a safeguard against any future government scrapping or reducing annual leave requirements. 

Equal pay
Equal pay between men and women has been enshrined in EU law since 1957. It was also part of UK law before Britain joined the EU but in a more minimal way. The British government had refused to incorporate into law the idea that pay should be based on value, meaning a woman doing a more valuable or senior job could legally be paid only the same as a more junior male colleague.  The UK government amended this only after enforcement action by the EU Commission. 

Maternity rights
EU law guarantees women a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave. The 1992 EU Pregnant Workers Directive also gave women the right to take time off work for medical appointments relating to their pregnancy. It placed a duty on employers to look after pregnant women, including putting them on paid leave if the nature of their work was unsuitable during pregnancy – for example, if it was overly physical and potentially dangerous.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has made clear any discrimination towards a woman because of her pregnancy or maternity leave is sexism and should be treated at such. The ECJ also ruled that employers must give women on maternity leave the same contractual rights as they do to other employees, for example by continuing to pay in to pension schemes. 

Parental leave
EU law says parents must be allowed to take 18 weeks of unpaid leave from work to look after a child.  It also says workers must be allowed additional time off for other family reasons, such as an ill child. 

Anti-discrimination laws
UK laws banning discrimination on the grounds of age, religion or sexual orientation come directly from the EU’s Equal Treatment Directive. EU laws have also made it easier for people claiming discrimination to get justice, by placing the burden of proof in discrimination cases on the alleged perpetrator rather than the alleged victim.

Compensation for discrimination victims
Under EU law, there is no cap on the amount an employer found guilty of discrimination can be ordered to be pay in compensation. This could change after Brexit. The last government commissioned a report on employment law, by venture capitalist Adrian Beecham, that recommended introducing a cap on compensation payments for discrimination. Until now, EU rules have prevented UK government ministers from doing so. Critics say the current law can be crippling for employers but others say it is a reasonable reflection of the huge consequences discrimination can have.

Agency worker protections
EU rules adopted in 2008 say temporary workers must be treated equally to directly-employed staff, including being given access to the same “amenities or collective facilities”.  They also say EU member states should do more to improve agency workers’ access to training and childcare facilities. These regulations are not popular with employers and were resisted by the UK government during EU negotiations.  They could be some of the first EU rules to be scrapped post-Brexit. 

Health and safety
The EU’s Health and Safety Framework Directive forces employers to assess and act to reduce workplace risks. Other rules cover issues such as disabilities, noise and specific regulations for staff working with chemicals, asbestos or other potential hazards. The TUC says 41 of the 65 new health and safety regulations introduced in the UK between 1997 and 2009 came from EU laws. 

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