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Britain’s Brexit options – a refresh

Brexit means Brexit.

The meaning of Brexit is once again open to question. Theresa May’s failed election gamble appears to have done away with her mandate for a hard Brexit. She had previously committed to leaving the EU’s single market and customs union. That means a number of trade options appear to be back on the table.

Since the referendum on Britain’s EU membership was called, The Conversation has published a series of articles analysing what the UK’s future relationship with the EU might look like.

For those who are short on time, here’s a summary of the four models for UK trade after Brexit by trade expert Maria Garcia from the University of Bath. They are Switzerland, Norway, WTO-only and Canada, which recently signed a comprehensive trade deal with the EU known as CETA. None offer a smooth road ahead, as our academic experts explain below.


Negotiating CETA was a rollercoaster writes the University of Liverpool’s Andrew Smith, an expert in Canadian trade. It offers a lesson for the UK in negotiating a free-trade agreement with the EU and makes it clear that the process will be long and difficult.


So what about the Swiss model of cooperation with the EU? Switzerland is not a member of the single market. Instead it has a number of bilateral deals with the EU. The University of Kent’s Clive Church explains why it makes for a complex and messy model, again featuring endless negotiations.


Norway offers a model of what it’s like to remain in the single market, but not be in the EU. This article by Newcastle University’s Francesco De-Cecco points out that a Norway-style arrangement comes with a democratic deficit. It would not mean “taking back control”, as it means accepting freedom of movement and laws of the market that are made in Brussels. Meanwhile, research by Nauro Campos at Brunel University finds that Norway’s economy would have done better if it had political, as well as economic, membership of the EU.


The alternative to these models is the WTO-only arrangement. If the UK leaves the EU without concluding a trade deal, it will be treated the same as any of the 164 WTO members. This means tariffs on trade and the full gamut of non-tariff barriers. For QUB’s Billy Melo Araujo it is the nightmare scenario.

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