Theresa May told trade deals with rest of world MORE important than Brexit deal with EU

BRITAIN must prioritise trade deals with the rest of the world and be willing to walk away from Brexit talks with the EU without an agreement, a leading barrister has claimed.


Theresa May GETTY

Theresa May has been told a Brexit deal with the EU must not risk Britain’s new trading aims

Martin Howe QC has warned new Prime Minister Theresa May not to leave the UK in a situation like cash-strapped Greece, when it was forced to accept a punitive bailout deal from Brussels because there was no other alternative.Instead, Britain must focus on developing economic ties with the rest of the world to sign as soon as the country is freed from Brussels’ shackles, the EU law expert said.He insisted these must be of greater concern and importance than implementing a deal with the 27 remaining EU member states, even if that means walking away with no deal.
In a new publication for thinktank Politeia, Mr Howe insisted there is no hurry to trigger Article 50 – the legal process by which a member state formally quits the EU – but Britain’s EU exit must be wrapped up before the 2020 general election.Invoking Article 50 will put a two-year deadline on Britain and the rest of the EU agreeing a new relationship.He dismissed Brussels’ threat that it will not hold preliminary talks with the UK before Article 50 is actioned, claiming there is “every incentive” for individual member states to ‘pre-negotiate’ with Britain.In a paper titled ‘How to Leave the EU: Legal and Trade Priorities for the New Britain’, the Queen’s Counsel wrote: “It is vital that the UK recognises that it must be willing to exit the EU on that final date without an agreement if that proves necessary.”Mr Howe explained how under a “twin-track policy” Britain must tie up trade deals with other parts of the world and those European countries not in the EU, as well as seek a deal with Brussels.But he stressed a potential EU agreement must not be to the detriment of the other deals Britain agrees.

He said: “Our objectives in negotiating with the EU should then be to reach an agreement with the EU that in all respects is compatible with our domestic and world trading priorities, not the other way round.”

In the first instance the UK should not focus on the discussions about future relations with the EU

Martin Howe QC

Mr Howe explained how, if it were the case that Britain did not successfully agree a Brexit deal with Brussels, the UK would continue to trade with EU countries under World Trade Organisation terms.He said any tariffs imposed on UK goods would still be “substantially less” than the £13billion sum Britain coughs up for its EU budget contributions each year.Calling on Mrs May to set up alternative trading options rather than rely solely on trying to extract a deal from EU countries, Mr Howe said: “This is not because a successful agreement with the EU is unlikely, but because having no alternative plan in the event of no agreement, is a recipe for disaster.“The UK would find itself obliged to agree to whatever terms are offered, just as the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was over the 2015 bailout terms dictated to Greece.“It should also be pointed out that leaving without an agreement in place at the day of exit does not prevent an agreement being reached in the future.”


International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is working on new relationships across the world

Mr Howe also warned British negotiators not to try and complete an “all-encompassing” agreement with Brussels that would include terms on both trade and non-trade cooperation.He said this would “create a ‘lobster pot’ effect which makes it difficult to withdraw from an area of cooperation or to require its terms to be revised without bringing to an end the entire arrangement between the UK and the EU”.The barrister cited the example of Switzerland, whose migration agreements with the EU are linked to its economic deal.Mr Howe said the UK must leave the EU’s ‘single market’ during Brexit as it could force “harmful ‘Fortress Europe’ restrictions on our trade with non-EU countries”.He suggested continuing a free trade arrangement with the bloc was likely, adding: “As the EU’s best customer, one which buys far more from the EU than it sells to the bloc, continuing on the basis of a free trade deal is more in their interests than the UK’s.”Applying to rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – which Britain was a founder member of in 1960 before having to withdraw membership to join the European Economic Community (EEC) 13 years later – would preserve free trade arrangements with EFTA members Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein immediately after Brexit, Mr Howe argued.

He stressed this does not mean Britain would have to remain signed up to uncontrolled EU immigration through the freedom of movement principle, in exchange for free trade.

He said: “Free movement between the EU and EFTA states is the result of membership of the EEA (European Economic Area), not on account of their membership of EFTA.”

Spelling out his plan for Brexit, Mr Howe claimed “focussing on Britain’s global trade outside the EU would put the emphasis where it ought to be”.He added: “This should be to put in place the mechanisms for recovering UK powers from the EU and governing vital trade relations with the rest of the world, to come into immediate effect once formal withdrawal takes place.“It means that in the first instance the UK should not focus on the discussions about future relations with the EU: they are bound to suffer from the same delays as have stymied negotiations by the EU to reach a trade deal between the US or for many years, Canada, as each of the remaining 27 member states have different priorities and different agendas.“The tendency, evident during the [EU referendum] campaign, for Whitehall officials and some senior politicians to reflect the instincts of the EU and their linked organisations, will best be avoided by focusing their efforts on reestablishing domestic law and trading with the rest of the world as the first priority.“Mrs May has said Britain should not necessarily adopt a model “that is on the shelf already” in terms of other countries’ relationships with the EU.New International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has recently begun early work in exploring trade deals with the US and Canada while new Chancellor Philip Hammond visited China earlier this week to establish the foundations for trade negotiations.

  • Martin Howe QC is a barrister at 8 New Square specialising in Intellectual Property and EU law. His recent publications for Politeia include Zero-Plus: The Principles of EU Renegotiation (2014). He is Chairman of Lawyers for Britain. 

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