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Ahead of the debate on 27 October 2016 on the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and the opportunities for the UK to be an outward looking champion of global free trade, this Library briefing provides a summary of the statements made thus far by the Government regarding global free trade after the UK has departed from the EU. It also summarises comments from the opposition political parties, business representatives, trade unions and campaign groups on the future prospects for UK free trade.

During her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 5 October 2016, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated that part of the UK’s role upon the world stage after leaving the EU would be to act as an advocate for global free trade rights. The Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, has also suggested that the UK’s departure from the EU will provide an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in free trade.

The UK’s future trading relationship with the EU is to be the subject of negotiations for the UK’s departure. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the EU, Lord Bridges of Headley, has stated that the Government is looking to achieve “the freest possible” trading relationship with EU member states. The UK Government has also said that it wants to have greater control over its immigration policy outside the EU. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has stated the EU would not compromise on rules for the free movement of people and allow the UK to retain its current level of access to the European single market.

The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have all argued that the Government’s position going into the EU departure negotiation process is likely to lead to less free access to foreign markets for UK businesses. The campaign organisation Open Britain also contends that the Government risks jeopardising the UK’s ability to trade freely with EU member states. Of the think tanks and campaign groups commenting on the future of UK international trade policy, a number have suggested that leaving the EU might present the UK with an opportunity to promote global free trade.


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