The extent to which the UK’s legal landscape will change as a result of Brexit depends on which alternative is chosen to govern the relationship between the UK and the EU post-exit. The five most commonly discussed models are discussed briefly below. The UK may also negotiate its own position, which is unlikely to match any of the arrangements that already exist for other countries:
The Norwegian option (EEA membership)
Under the “Norwegian” option, the UK would join the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and seek membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Norway is an example of a current EEA/EFTA member which has gained full access to the EU single market in exchange for compliance with the bulk of EU laws. EEA members pay reduced (but still significant) membership fees to the EU, but have no say in shaping its laws.
The Swiss option (bilateral agreements)
Switzerland has negotiated access to the majority of the single market through a web of bilateral agreements with the EU. These agreements oblige Switzerland to implement EU law and any subsequent changes within their respective areas, although Switzerland has no say in shaping the changes. The “Swiss” option would involve access to EFTA and elements of the EU single market. Under this option, the UK would not pay fees to the EU, although there are costs involved in EFTA membership.
The Turkish option (customs union)
The Turkish option would see the UK forming a customs union with the EU, as Turkey has done, dispensing with customs checks and providing access to the single market in relation to specified types of goods (processed agricultural goods and industrial goods). Where Turkey has access to the single market, it complies with rules equivalent to those of the EU (eg competition, product and environmental rules). It does not have access to the single market in terms of services. Turkey’s external tariffs are aligned with EU tariffs as part of the customs union, but it must negotiate separate terms for its own access to the markets of those third countries.
The Canadian option (negotiated bilateral free trade agreements with the EU and separately with other trading nations)
Having a bespoke Free Trade Agreement in place would enable the UK to formalise its economic relationship with the EU in the form of a single agreement encompassing only those areas in which the UK wishes to participate, and setting out the terms of that participation. The EU-Canada Trade Agreement, for example, (concluded in 2014) took seven years to negotiate and is still not yet in force. It requires Canada to comply with EU rules when exporting to the bloc, but does not cover a number of service sectors (such as aviation), imposes quotas on some agricultural products, and requires financial institutions to establish a local subsidiary inside the EU and comply with local regulatory requirements in order to benefit from passporting.
World Trade Organisation
Instead of formal relations with the EU, the UK could rely on its membership of the World Trade Organisation as basis for regulating trade between itself and the EU. It would, however, need to update the terms of its membership of the WTO and negotiate commitments with all 161 members. UK goods would be subject to the tariffs that the EU applies to all WTO members without a preferential scheme or agreement in place.
None of these options would give the UK any say in the EU legislative developments to which it would be subject.