The authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations

03 Dec 2019

Politics and Society

Relationship with the EU

Analysis of the party manifestos reveals numerous statements on Brexit to be vague and potentially unrealistic, research by academic think tank The UK in a Changing Europe reveals.

The report, Brexit: the manifestos uncovered, finds the most glaring omission relates to the significant economic effects of Brexit on the economy.

Brexit will shape the UK’s economic, regulatory and trading relationship with the EU for the foreseeable future. Yet neither the Conservative nor Labour party address how Brexit would affect their wider economic strategies and ambitions.

In new economic analysis, The UK in a Changing Europe finds that, even under the scenario of a Conservative Brexit that leads to a free trade agreement, there would be an annual fiscal shortfall of at least £6 billion and potentially as much as £20 billion. A World Trade Organisation exit from December 2020 could push that as high as £28 billion. (see table below)

Other examples of unclear, unfeasible, misleading and missing statements include:

Brexit process

  • The Conservatives rule out extending transition beyond 2020 and do not discuss what will happen if a trade deal is not secured by then
    • To achieve a deal in 12 months the government needs to be clear what they want the future relationship to look like yet there is little clarity in the manifesto. Securing a trade deal in a year requires difficult and painful concessions on both sides on politically sensitive issues, such as fisheries, agriculture and manufacturing. The talks are also likely to be complicated by non-trade issues like Gibraltar
  • Labour’s proposal to negotiate a new Brexit deal and hold a referendum in six months is exceedingly demanding. The Constitution Unit estimates that it takes around 22 weeks for Parliament to legislate for a referendum and for all the formalities to be sorted out.

UK-EU relationship

  • The Conservatives aim to have 80 per cent of UK trade covered by free trade agreements within the next three years, starting with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. This is extremely optimistic, particularly given that prospective partners will first ask about the nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU
  • Labour’s proposal to put its deal on the UK’s future relationship with the EU to the people is misleading. This is because the UK is only negotiating its divorce (past liabilities) with the EU. The political declaration, which deals with the future, is not legally binding. That relationship will only be settled once the UK has left.
  • The Conservative claim Northern Ireland will be able to access new UK trade deals, will have ‘unfettered access to the UK market’ and that the UK’s internal market will be maintained and strengthened may well be incompatible with the EU’s interpretation of the new arrangements
  • There is not a single reference in the Conservative manifesto to maintaining security co-operation with the EU


  • The Conservative commitment to an ‘Australian-style points system’ is inaccurate. Those coming to the UK to work will in most cases require a job offer and there will also be special visas for NHS workers and a new, expanded seasonal scheme for agricultural workers.

The report highlights some of the differences between Theresa May’s preferred deal with the EU and Boris Johnson’s. It finds:

  • The current prime minister wants a far looser relationship with the EU than the one in May’s political declaration, which talked about building on customs arrangements and held out the prospect of significant regulatory alignment on goods
  • May wanted to explore the possibility of participating in a range of EU agencies and programmes, which the current manifesto does not mention (except international science collaboration).
  • In 2017 the UK seemed to be heading towards a much more restrictive regime for immigration. Now the net migration target has gone and a new government, even a Conservative one, is likely to be substantially more liberal on immigration.

Anand Menon said: “The harder the Brexit, the more difficult the already problematic economic and fiscal arithmetic will become for any government.

“One way or another, this election may ‘Get Brexit Done’, but the economic impacts will be with us for the next Parliament and beyond.”


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