Associate Fellow, International Economics
Emily LydgateFellow, UK Trade Policy Observatory, University of Sussex
Rorden WilkinsonFellow, UK Trade Policy Observatory, University of Sussex

While granting concessions or adopting EU trading terms will ease the UK's transition out of the union, privileging ease of transition could be detrimental to the the country's longer-term goals.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for the 11th G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on 4 September 2016. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images.UK Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for the 11th G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on 4 September 2016. Photo via Getty Images.


  • The UK is faced with the task of negotiating more than 100 new trade agreements if it leaves the EU customs union.
  • Negotiations with the WTO and the EU are the most pressing. If the UK does not manage to reset its place in the WTO before leaving the EU, this could lead to legal and diplomatic complexities and possible trade conflicts.
  • Trade partners in regional and bilateral agreements may want to change the terms of their existing agreements; and the UK may wish to include services trade – which is of increasing importance to its commercial performance – in these arrangements.
  • To reduce the negotiation load, the UK could opt for temporary ‘peace clauses’ to maintain existing terms of trade during negotiations.
  • In view of the narrow base of domestic expertise in conducting trade negotiations, the UK will need to recruit and train a large body of new specialist staff; these negotiators will have to consult with domestic vested interests as well as negotiate with the European Commission and external governments.
  • If the UK is to expose its markets to greater competition, it also needs to be ready to help potentially disadvantaged groups at home to adjust.
  • To ease negotiations with third countries, joining existing (or intended) mega-regional agreements could be advantageous; however, doing so may also result in loss of sovereignty.
  • The most immediate challenges the UK faces arise from its reduced negotiating power as a sole actor, the initial lack of personnel and training in trade negotiation, time pressure, and concerns that the EU will seek to play hardball in order to discourage other member states from leaving the union.
  • This paper is a part of a series published by the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO), a partnership between Chatham House and the University of Sussex.