Brexit, TTIP and the future of UK trade policy

By Chris W on October 27, 2016

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has raised many questions for trade justice campaigners. Suzanne Ismail explains how.

Over the last few years, many Earth and Economy readers have been campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a major trade deal being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States. As a member of the EU, the UK would have been bound by TTIP. But after voting to leave the EU, what happens now?

Unfortunately, we can only say two things with any degree of confidence: in the short term there is going to be lots of uncertainty; and in the longer term trade negotiations are going to become more, not less, important for the UK government.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness believes that TTIPis the wrong sort of trade deal. We have opposed it on the grounds that it hands over too much power to large multinational corporations and prioritises short-term economic gains over climate policy and the need to promote economic equality.

Following the EU referendum result, one of the biggest questions is whether the UK will still be part of TTIP? This is very much an open question, the answer to which will depend on how soon TTIP negotiations can be concluded, the timing of the UK’s exit from the EU, and the shape of EU–UK trading relationships after that.

The EU and the US are aiming to complete TTIP negotiations by the end of 2016. However, the talks are behind schedule and there is a very real chance that by the time a deal is ready to be ratified, the UK will have left the EU.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that UK citizens should stop worrying about TTIP. Post-Brexit, the EU and the US will remain some of our largest trading partners and any deal between the two will inevitably have an impact on our economy. It’s likely that we’ll still feel pressure to ‘align’ our standards with whatever is agreed in TTIP. There’s even been speculation that the UK might ask to join TTIP as a third party. What this all means for the future of the anti-TTIP campaign in Britain is very unclear.

CETA – UK ratification may go ahead

Whatever happens with TTIP, we shouldn’t forget about its sister agreement CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), a trade deal between the EU and Canada.

CETA is very similar to TTIP. QPSW is particularly worried that it includes a controversial mechanism (known as an ‘investment court system’, or ICS), which would allow foreign companies to sue governments if a company believes a government’s actions will damage its ability to make a profit.

CETA negotiations have already ended and the process of ratifying the deal will probably start this autumn so there is a strong chance that the UK will be part of CETA – at least until we formally exit the EU. (Although, again, there are suggestions that the UK government might negotiate being part of the deal indefinitely.) At the time of writing, it’s expected that the UK parliament would have to scrutinise CETA as part of the ratification process, providing camp-aigners with further opportunities to take action.

Future UK trade policy

While uncertainties around TTIP and CETA are likely to continue, the UK government has made it very clear that developing strong trading relations outside of the EU is now a key objective. A Department for International Trade has been set up to realise this ambition, and although there are restrictions on what can be agreed while the UK remains a member of the EU, the intention is to start talks with potential new trade partners as soon as possible. This new approach presents both risks and opportunities for trade campaigners.

On the one hand, successive UK governments have been very much pro-‘free trade’, and the risk is that economic uncertainty following the referendum result will see a push to dismantle environmental and social protections in an attempt to prove that the country is ‘open for business’. On the other hand, any economic growth based on unsustainable or unjust practices is likely to be short-lived. If the UK is to develop trade relationships that underpin long-term economic success, it’s vital that these promote high standards of social and environmental protection. Over the coming years, the UK has an opportunity to realign trade policy to these ends. Trade campaigners will play a vital role in making the case for it to do so.

What can I do?

Keep an eye out for opportunities to take action in future editions of Earth and Economy.

Find out more about TTIP and other trade deals at




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One Comment

  1. Mark Frankel
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    This article needs to be updated for the inauguration of President Donald Trump, also an opponent of TTP and other such free-trade deals. Should Quakers be comfortable with finding themselves on the same side as populist protectionists?

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