The United Kingdom’s relationship with its neighbouring countries is highly complex. It covers a vast range of agreements and rules governing all types of human interaction – economic, social, cultural, political and legal matters – that occur between the people and states of Europe.
At the state level, this relationship ranges from voluntary cooperation in some matters, such as scientific and security cooperation, to a high degree of integration based on legal agreements in others, such as standards for the environment, product safety, workplace safety, mutual respect for property rights. The latter also includes the tax union, the customs union, as well as the four freedoms of the EU, as well as separate human rights laws from the EU and ECHR.
The legislation which much of this is enshrined in does not just include the EU treaties, but also other European treaties, agreements and institutions that predate the EU or exist independent to it, as well as bilateral agreements between states, and some special arrangements for the devolved regions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This complexity presents a huge challenge for anyone trying to get a full picture of all the issues, and has understandably led to varying degrees of confusion among the public, the press and policy makers, and this in turn has had a very negative effects on the quality of the debate from all sides.
These pages are designed as a resource to improve the overall quality of debate on these important policy issues, by providing concise factual information, commentary and links to further information for each topic.