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What does leaving the EU mean?
There are several overlapping trans-European agreements that European countries can participate in: the EU, the EEA, the Customs Union, the Single Market, the Euro, Schengen, NATO, and so on. It is theoretically possible to be a member of almost combination of them (see image at bottom of page).
The situation is sufficiently complex, and the UK so large, that any change would take a long time and disrupt existing arrangements, like a heavy passenger jumping between two small moving boats. Realistically, UK withdrawal would be a multi-stage process that changes the set of feasible options for European co-operation.
The are other measures which could be adopted parallel to withdrawal from the EU.
- Leave the political union, stay in EEA/Single Market: “Norway option” / “government by fax”
- Leave the bureaucracy union, rejoin EFTA: “Switzerland option” / “government by guillotine”
- Leave political union and Single Market, stay in customs union: “Turkey model”
- Leave EU, EEA and Customs Union: the “Japan model”
Venn diagram of European integration
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