Membership of United Kingdom in the European Economic Area

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The United Kingdom is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) since 1 January 1994, following the entry into force of the 1992 EEA Agreement (as adjusted by a 1993 protocol). Membership is one of the obligations of all members of the European Union.

Following completion of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, commonly known as Brexit, the country could seek to continue to be a member the EEA through mechanisms available to members of EFTA. Theresa May, then British Prime Minister, said that the UK government would not seek permanent membership in the single market, focusing instead in attaining strong and stable leadership.[1]

Current Status[edit]

Britain is currently a member of the European Economic Area as a member of the European Union. Questions have been raised as to whether a state that withdraws from the EU automatically withdraws from the EEA or whether such a withdrawal requires notice under Article 127 of the EEA Agreement[2] – and, if the courts so decide, whether such notice given by the UK would require an act of parliament.[3]

EFTA Membership[edit]

Were the UK to join the EEA as an EFTA member, it would sign up to existing EU internal market legislation that is part of the EEA Agreement. Changes to the internal market would be incorporated into the EEA Agreement subject to the consent of the UK at the EEA Joint Committee; once in the EEA Agreement, the UK would have to incorporate these into UK Law. The EU is also required to conduct extensive consultations with EEA EFTA members beforehand via its many committees and cooperative bodies.[4][5] Some EU law originates from various international bodies on which non-EU EEA countries have a seat.

The EEA Agreement (EU and EFTA members except Switzerland) does not cover Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, Customs Union, Common Trade Policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy, direct and indirect taxation, and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters, leaving EFTA members free to set their own policies in these areas;[6] however, EEA countries are required to contribute to the EU Budget in exchange for access to the internal market.[7][8]

A 2013 research paper presented to the Parliament of the United Kingdom proposed a number of alternatives to EU membership which would continue to allow it access to the EU's internal market, including continuing EEA membership as an EFTA member state, or the Swiss model of a number of bilateral treaties covering the provisions of the single market.[9]

EFTA Views[edit]

The United Kingdom was a co-founder of EFTA in 1960, but ceased to be a member upon joining the European Union.

In the first meeting since the Brexit vote, EFTA reacted by saying both that they were open to a UK return and that Britain has many issues to work through. The president of Switzerland Johann Schneider-Ammann stated that its return would strengthen the association.[10] However, in August 2016 the Norwegian Government expressed reservations. Norway's European affairs minister, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, told the Aftenposten newspaper: "It’s not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation. It would shift the balance, which is not necessarily in Norway’s interests".[11]

Scottish membership of EFTA[edit]

Given the United Kingdom's referendum vote in favour of leaving the European Union and Scotland's overwhelming vote in favour of remaining within the European Union, the Scottish Government has looked into methods to retain access or membership within the EEA, and membership of the EFTA is another option the government is analysing.[12] However, other EFTA states have stated that only sovereign states are eligible for membership, so it could only join if it became independent from the UK.[13]

UK Government View[edit]

In January 2017, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, announced a 12-point plan of negotiating objectives and confirmed that the UK government would not seek continued permanent membership in the single market,[14] leaving open an option of continuing in EEA membership for a one year transition period after EU exit day (originally 29 March 2019, postponed to 12 April).[15]

Role of the European Court of Justice[edit]

Under the EEA Agreement, the UK would not be subject to European Court of Justice rulings but instead the EFTA Court would resolve disputes under the EEA Agreement between the EU, EU Member states, and the EFTA Member States.[16] The Court also resolves disputes between EEA persons and the EFTA Surveillance Authority, but there would be no right for a person to raise a dispute under UK Law to the EFTA Court.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (17 January 2017). "Theresa May confirms Britain will leave Single Market as she sets out 12-point Brexit plan". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  2. ^ "EEA Agreement, Article 127" (PDF). Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  3. ^ Landale, James (28 November 2016). "'Brexit: Legal battle over UK's single market membership". BBC News. Retrieved 29 November 2016. If the courts say Article 127 does need to be triggered, there is the question of whether an act of parliament would be needed for it to be authorised.
  4. ^ "EFTA Bulletin Decision Shaping in the European Economic Area" (PDF). European Free Trade Association. March 2009. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  5. ^ Jonathan Lindsell (12 August 2013). "Fax democracy? Norway has more clout than you know". civitas.org.uk.
  6. ^ "The Basic Features of the EEA Agreement". European Free Trade Association. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  7. ^ Glencross, Andrew (March 2015). "Why a British referendum on EU membership will not solve the Europe question" (PDF). International Affairs. 91 (2): 303–17. doi:10.1111/1468-2346.12236.
  8. ^ "EEA EFTA Budget". EFTA. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  9. ^ "Leaving the EU - RESEARCH PAPER 13/42" (PDF). House of Commons Library. 2013-07-01. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  10. ^ "The Latest: Lithuania says UK must say if decision is final". CNBC. 2016-06-27. Archived from the original on 2016-07-03. Retrieved 2016-09-18 – via Associated Press.
  11. ^ Patrick Wintour (2016-08-09). "Norway may block UK return to European Free Trade Association | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  12. ^ "Sturgeon hints the Scottish Government could seek Norway-style EU relationship". 2016-11-17. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  13. ^ "Iceland: Scotland could not start applying for EFTA until after independence". The Daily Telegraph. 2017-03-16. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  14. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (17 January 2017). "Theresa May confirms Britain will leave Single Market as she sets out 12-point Brexit plan". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  15. ^ David Owen (Lord Owen) Here’s how to stop the EU yelling ‘heel’, The Sunday Times, 28 January 2018.[1].
  16. ^ "A&O Legal Opinion on EEA membership"