UK trade options beyond 2019 inquiry announced

17 November 2016

The International Trade Committee has announced an inquiry into the UK's trade options beyond 2019—the date when the UK is likely formally to leave the European Union. This will be the committee's first inquiry since starting on 1 November.

The inquiry sets out to examine the various trade models that might be available to the UK after Brexit, and to consider their strengths and weaknesses.

The Committee will look at future trading relationships between the UK and the wider world, as well as between the UK and the EU.

Terms of reference

As matters currently stand, "Brexit" means that the UK's trade relations with both the European Union and the wider world will need to be on a new footing from 2019.

In the absence of a settled way forward, the International Trade Committee wishes to examine the available options for the basis on which the UK’s international trading can take place after its withdrawal from the EU.

The aim would be to identify as clearly as possible for each option:

  • the respective advantages and disadvantages;
  • the legal and political potential for realisation; and
  • the implications for the agenda and resources of the Department for International Trade.

Written submissions are invited, from an economic, legal and/or political perspective, regarding the following issues:


  • the implications of the "sequencing" of the steps towards Brexit (triggering Article 50, the two-year negotiating period, formally leaving the EU) for negotiating new UK trade arrangements;
  • the necessity and potential for the UK to make medium-term transitional trading arrangements pending the conclusion of long-term agreements;


  • whether the distinction between so-called "Soft Brexit" and "Hard Brexit" is a useful one;
  • the difference between "membership" and "access" in relation to the EU Single Market;
  • what trade-offs might be involved in securing privileged access to the Single Market;
  • the implications of Single Market access for UK trade in services (particularly “passporting rights” in respect of financial services);

Models for UK-EU trading relations

  • membership of the European Free Trade Association, with or without membership of the European Economic Area / additional bilateral arrangements with the EU;
  • a bespoke UK arrangement, such as the "Continental Partnership" model proposed by the think-tank Bruegel;
  • maintaining a Customs Union with the EU, on the same or similar terms as certain other non-EU states;
  • a bilateral free-trade agreement, such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada;
  • trading under World Trade Organization rules only (including the "most favoured nation" rule and the relevant schedule of tariff concessions);

Other issues

  • the nature and extent of the EU's external tariffs, customs checks and non-tariff barriers;
  • whether the UK will be able after Brexit to continue trading under the terms of existing EU bilateral free-trade agreements with certain countries (on the basis of so called "grandfathering");
  • the terms on which major economies outside the EU (such as the USA, China and India) are able to trade with the rest of the world;
  • the possibility and desirability of the UK adopting a unilateral free-trade, low-tariff or uniform-tariff approach;
  • whether trading models operated by countries that belong to the Commonwealth might be applicable to the UK and the lessons of the UK's historic trading relations with the Commonwealth before 1973.

Chair's comments

On launching the inquiry, Committee Chair, Angus MacNeil, said:

"With the UK likely to leave the EU in 2019, trade relations between the UK and the EU, as well as the wider world, will have to start afresh. In order to understand how best to proceed with developing these new relationships, we must first establish what the options are and, of course, the legal and political realities in being able to exploit them. This inquiry will shed light on how leaving the EU may affect some of the UK’s key established and emerging industries.

A further priority for us will be looking at what opportunities there will be to negotiate new trading relationships that will allow such industries to succeed in reaching new global markets and whether the Department is fit for these purposes."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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