The UK-EU Agreement

The UK has a special status in the EU. It is a full member of the Single Market but will not join the single currency or participate in the Schengen open border arrangement. The UK’s new settlement has secured this status with important reforms to economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and welfare and free movement.

Economic governance

All the EU’s members formally recognise that the UK should not be forced to participate in measures that are for the Eurozone. Our new settlement secures important protections for the UK in the EU’s economic governance and means that:

  • UK businesses trading in the Single Market cannot be discriminated against because the UK is outside the Eurozone;
  • the responsibility for supervising the financial stability of the UK remains in the hands of the Bank of England and other UK authorities;
  • UK taxpayers will never be required to pay for Eurozone bail outs; and
  • all discussions on matters that affect all EU Member States will involve all EU Member States, including the UK, not just members of the Eurozone.


Our new settlement confirms that:

  • the regulatory burden on businesses, particularly small businesses, will be reduced with specific targets established in key sectors in line with the approach adopted in the UK;
  • there will be a new focus on further extending the Single Market to help bring down the remaining barriers to trade within the EU, particularly in key areas like services, energy and digital; and
  • the EU will pursue, with renewed commitment, free trade agreements with the world’s most dynamic economies, so that the tariff and regulatory barriers faced by UK companies in large and growing non-EU markets are reduced or eliminated.


Our new settlement means that:

  • it has been formally recognised for the first time that the UK is not committed to further political integration into the EU and we have secured specific confirmation that the concept of ‘ever closer union’ will not apply to the UK in the future. This builds on the statutory requirement in the European Union Act 2011 of the UK Parliament, which makes it impossible for any UK Government to transfer power to the EU in the future without a referendum. The agreement confirms that EU Member States do not have to aim for a common destination;
  • national parliaments can combine to block unwanted EU legislative proposals, where the power should not be exercised at the EU level, giving a stronger voice to the UK Parliament;
  • a new mechanism will be created to review existing EU laws to ensure that decisions are taken at the national level where possible and only at the EU level where necessary (subsidiarity) and that only the minimum action necessary is taken to achieve regulatory objectives (proportionality);
  • national security will remain the sole responsibility of the UK Government. We, not the EU, decide, issue by issue, when we think cooperation with our European neighbours would enhance our own security; and
  • on issues such as policing, immigration and asylum policy, it is underlined that the judgement on whether we take part in European-level action rests clearly with the UK Government and Parliament.

Welfare and free movement

Our new settlement:

  • will enable the UK to have a new emergency brake to limit full access to in-work benefits by newly arrived EU workers for up to 4 years when they enter our labour market. This will be in force for 7 years;
  • confirms that in future the UK will not have to pay means-tested unemployment benefits to EU nationals who come to the UK as job seekers;
  • will mean that Child Benefit paid to EU nationals living here, but whose children live outside the UK will no longer be paid at UK rates but be paid at a rate that reflects conditions – including the standard of living and Child Benefit paid – of the country where the children live;
  • commits to new legislation to prevent illegal migrants from using marriage to an EU national living in the UK to avoid our tough domestic immigration rules; and will mean that non-EU nationals who marry EU nationals living in the UK will also need to meet our immigration rules; and
  • ensures greater freedom for the UK to act against the threat of crimes being committed by EU nationals moving around the EU by preventing those who pose a threat from coming into the country and making it easier to deport them if they have been living in the UK.


The central element of the agreement is an International Law Decision agreed by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the EU. This is a binding international treaty.

This Decision is binding in international law on all EU countries and will take effect immediately if the British people vote to remain in the EU. It will be registered at the United Nations, as the Danish Decision was in 1992.

It is also irreversible without the UK’s consent: the decision was agreed by all of the Member States and cannot be amended or revoked unless all Member States, including the UK, agree.

It is a tried and tested approach giving the legal certainty that the UK needs. There is precedent for an agreement of this nature: it was successfully used to address Danish and Irish concerns in 1992 and 2009 respectively.

(This text has been taken from “The best of both worlds: the United Kingdom’s special status in a reformed European Union”.)

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