What if the UK didn’t become a member of the EU in the first place?

Economy & Politics | Reports

After what has felt like forever, parliament finally ratified the withdrawal agreement to leave the EU on the 31st January. So, with Britain’s exit from the EU underway at last, we thought we’d hypothesise what might have happened to the UK if we never joined in the first place.


What many people don’t realise about the EU, or the European Economic Community (EEC) as it was formerly known, is that it has prevented war amongst the European nations for a longer duration of time than ever before.

Prior to its formation, Britain was seemingly forever engaged in ding-dongs with France, Germany, Spain or another European power, with the other EU countries engaged in conflicts with one another too.

And although Britain only managed to join the EEC in 1973, who’s to say that we wouldn’t have come into conflict with another European nation since WW2 ended, if joining was never on our agenda?

Never-ending working weeks?

Under EU law, most workers cannot be forced to work more than a 48-hour week, unless they decide to opt out of this. This is known as the Working Time Directive and it also entitles workers to a minimum of 48 hours off work per fortnight along with a rest time of at least 11 consecutive hours between shifts.

However, before it was introduced in 1998, the UK government at the time was not too keen on the idea and tried to resist its introduction during negotiations with the EU. Of course, if we had never joined, who knows what the minimum working week would be. Would it be never-ending? If so, would businesses be doing better, or worse because of overworked employees?

A nursery on every street corner?

Since 1992, the EU Pregnant Workers Directive has guaranteed women a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave and the right to take time off work for pregnancy-related medical appointments. If the nature of their work is deemed unsuitable during pregnancy, employers must also place female employees on paid leave.

However, without such laws in place, would pregnant women and new mothers be spending far more time in work than they do now? And would this then lead to new day care nurseries springing up all over the UK to meet the huge demand for childcare?

With the ratification of Brexit, it will be fascinating to see what happens once the transition period ends, and the UK is free to make changes to the EU regulations that it’s currently governed by. Will we see anything like the scenarios we’ve hypothesised here, or will things turn out totally different? We’re sure more will become clear from now up until the 1st of January 2021 when the transition period ends.

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