With Article 50 now finally triggered, what are the options for the UK’s negotiators when it comes to trade?
The government ruled out staying in the single market because it is intent on reducing and controlling immigration and being in the single market involves accepting the free movement of people. While if the UK were to stay inside the customs union, it would not be able to negotiate its own trade deals. That really only leaves two options for the UK to negotiate: a bespoke free trade deal with the EU, or failing to reach such a deal and instead falling back on our membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The government says it is preparing for what happens if it does not get a deal, either because it runs out of time or the deal on offer is not worth having. That plan would mean relying on the rules of the WTO. At the moment the UK and the rest of the EU apply WTO-agreed tariffs on other countries’ exports, covering more than 5,000 categories of goods, from “apples to zinc oxide”. In theory we could renegotiate each of those tariffs but if that happened it could be a very long and messy series of negotiations. The best-case scenario is that we just inherit the same deal the EU has with the rest of the world, and change it later if we want to.