ICAEW chart of the week: A Single Market of 529m people

A chart comprising a colour-coded grid of 529 squares each representing 1m people in the Single Market.

2020 is likely to be an interesting year for many reasons, but in Europe all eyes will be on UK and EU negotiators as they attempt to agree a new trading relationship following the ending of the UK’s membership of the European Union at the end of this month.

As illustrated by the #icaewchartoftheweek, the UK is currently the third largest of the 32 members of the ‘European Single Market’, a trade bloc that comprises the 28 European Union member states and the four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members.

The UK appears be aiming for a more distant trading relationship than that it currently enjoys as a EU member or that enjoyed by the 4 EFTA nations (three of which are members of the European Economic Area and the fourth – Switzerland – which has a series of bilateral agreements to give it access to the Single Market). Despite that, there are still a wide range of potential outcomes ranging from no agreement through to a much closer set of trading arrangements across multiple industries.

From a trade perspective, nothing much will change on 31 January when the UK formally ends it membership of the EU as the UK will continue to participate fully in the Single Market (as well as the EU Customs Union) until the end of the year. It will only be on 1 January 2021 that any new trade arrangements will come into force, changing the way that people and businesses operate across borders.

For now, it is very difficult to predict what exiting the Single Market will mean for the 67m people in the UK or the 462m people remaining in the Single Market. However, one prediction that can be made is that there will be plenty of opportunities for wild – and no doubt contradictory – headlines as the negotiators set to work!