The United Kingdom’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, has come on record stating that he believes that trade will be “at least as free” after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Foxs believe that trade with the European Union will remain open. He also stated that the U.K. will be able to negotiate more free trade deals with other countries. Previously, the U.K. had to negotiate deals with other countries through the European Union itself.
So what should we make of this talk? To be honest, it’s very optimistic, at best. Given the European Union’s strong stance so far, it might even be borderline delusional. In fact Nick Clegg , the Liberal Democrate EU spokesman, went as far as to call Fox “delusional.”
The European Union has made it clear that it will only allow free trade if the United Kingdom allows freedom of movement. Meanwhile, freedom of movement was perhaps the biggest factor that drove the U.K. from the European Union in the first place.
Getting the United Kingdom to accept freedom of movement will be tough. Unless the British government can convince its people to accept this, it seems unlikely that the U.K. will be granted access to the open market. Freedom of movement is becoming a contentious issue. Many governments want access to the common market, but many are also wary of freedom of movement.
It seems likely then that the E.U. won’t budge on freedom of movement in exchange for access to the open market. If the E.U. does, other countries might be emboldened to leave the Union. It’s not an exaggeration to think that the entire Union could actually collapse.
International Pivot Could Help U.K.
Fox did raise an interesting point, however. The United Kingdom will now have more freedom to negotiate unilateral deals with other countries. According to Fox, the United Kingdom is already negotiating trade deals with numerous countries, including Australia. According to Fox, the U.K. now has an opportunity to become a world-wide leader in open trade.
As Fox put it:
“I believe the UK is in a prime position to become a world leader in free trade because of the brave and historic decision of the British people to leave the European Union.”
In this, Fox may indeed be right. Previously, the United Kingdom had to negotiate in coordination with the European Union. With so many parties with so many different interests in the Union, this often slowed negotiations down. Further, the European Union has been criticized heavily for its bureaucratization.
The United Kingdom on its own will have a lot more flexibility. U.K. politicians will be able to set their own terms, and not have to appease others. Well, except for who ever they are negotiating with, of course. So while it’s easy to doubt Fox’s optimism in regards to the E.U., the U.K. may emerge as a leader elsewhere.