The European Single Market

Cliff Mitchell - 03/08/2023
Share this article
  • Bootstrap
  • Bootstrap
  • Bootstrap

Why the UK should join the European Single Market

What is the Single Market?

The European Single Market seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services and people (the “four freedoms”) among its member states. Free movement means there are no tariff or non-tariff barriers to movement. This is achieved through common rules and standards that all member states are legally committed to following.

It is estimated that the GDP of Single Market member states is 9 percent higher than it would be if tariff and non-tariff barriers were in place.

The four freedoms are:

  1. Goods. Companies can sell their products anywhere in the member states and consumers can buy where they want with no penalty.

  2. People. Citizens of the member states can live and work in any other country and their professional qualifications should be recognised.

  3. Capital. Currencies and capital can flow freely between the member states and European citizens can use financial services in any member state.

  4. Services. Professional services such as banking, insurance, architecture and advertising can be offered in any member state.

The Single Market in its current form was largely designed and driven by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and implemented on 1 January 1993. Implementation of free movement of services is still in progress.

Creating a more level playing field through reducing trade costs leads to higher living standards – it enables more trade to take place: lowering prices and increasing choice for consumers and businesses; and creating a larger market for firms, which enables more specialisation and competition.

Who is in the Single Market?

All 27 member states of the European Union are in the Single Market.

In addition Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are members (with a few minor exceptions such as agriculture and fisheries) through the European Economic Area agreements.

A number of potential EU accession candidates have limited participation in the Single Market including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

The post-Soviet countries of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have also been granted limited access to the single market in selected sectors and Turkey has access to the free movement of some goods via its membership in the European Union–Turkey Customs Union.

The Single Market covers a population of nearly 450 million and has a GDP of approximately US$16.3 trillion.

The United Kingdom left the European Single Market on 31 December 2020

Can the UK join the Single Market?

Yes. The biggest barrier to countries joining the Single Market is having to align rules and standards with those of the Single Market. However, given we were members for 47 years, helped define those standards, and have so far not diverged significantly from EU standards, this should not be a problem.

The current participation of several non-EU states in the Single Market demonstrates the possibility and signals from the EU indicate our return would be welcome. The terms of joining would, of course, be subject to negotiation with the EU.

Why the UK should join the Single Market

Joining the Single Market could be worth potentially 4% on UK GDP. This would, on average, mean higher living standards for all of us and likely be distributed across income levels. This would be a massive growth to the wealth of the UK and we would on average see a benefit of over £3,300 per household.

The need for most border checks with Single Market members, and the huge increase in bureaucracy we have seen since in recent years, would be largely removed. We could again travel freely around Europe without the need for visas or border checks, without roaming charges. Our businesses would, once again, have largely barrier free access to a market of 450 million people. If we joined the Single Market but not the Customs Union, there would still be some border barriers to enforce rules of origin, anti-dumping duties, etc.


Joining the European Single Market makes perfect sense, economically and socially, particularly at a time of cost of living crisis. The country would be better off, with more to invest in our crumbling public services, and we would all individually be better off financially and by regaining our freedoms to travel and work around Europe. Businesses would benefit from massively reduced bureaucracy and largely barrier free access to our closest and biggest market.

Share this article
  • Bootstrap
  • Bootstrap
  • Bootstrap