Tariffs and barriers: trade between Britain and the EU

Published: 8th Aug 2016

"There are no barriers, no tariffs, it's all really straightforward... [If we leave the EU] There is no guarantee about what kind of standards there would be, what kind of tariffs."

Lucy Thomas, Business for New Europe, Today Programme, 17 June 2015

"All the trade would continue and the trade is not dependent on there being a free trade agreement in any case"

William Dartmouth, UKIP MEP, Today Programme, 17 June 2015

Putting a Eurosceptic MEP and a Europhile campaigner on the air together before 7am is practically a recipe for contentious, contrasting statements; the perfect factchecker's breakfast.

There are barriers to trade in the EU

The statement that there are no barriers to trade with EU countries isn't entirely accurate.

We can roughly sort barriers on trade into two groups: taxes levied on imports (tariffs), and everything else (non-tariff barriers).

There are no tariff barriers to trade with other members of the single market, but there are non-tariff barriers. These can be things like product standards and regulations that make trade harder.

This sort of barrier is a particular issue in the services sector

People on both sides of the Brexit debate agree that, when it comes to free trade, non-tariff barriers are becoming a more important issue than tariffs.

Under World Trade Organisation rules the EU won't be allowed to punish the UK for leaving

We don't yet know what the post-membership relationship with the EU would look like. But we do know some things already.

If the UK and the EU can't agree on a specific trade agreement, then trade would take place under World Trade Organisation rules.

The EU would not be allowed to discriminate against the UK specifically, and we would face the same tariffs that any country without a free trade agreement with the EU would.

Trade with Europe could be lower if we left

The bold claim that "all the trade would continue" with the EU is speculative. The only way to know for sure is to leave.

There are good reasons to doubt that things will be as simple as everything continuing as it is. While you don't need to have a free trade agreement to trade with a country (or indeed a bloc of countries), it certainly helps.

There are a number of reasons why trade with the EU might become more costly after Britain leaves. Even if Britain negotiates an agreement without tariffs, increasing differences in regulations or tighter integration within the EU could see a fall in trade relative to staying in.


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