Last reviewed 5 June 2020

UK in a Changing Europe has analysed the progress in the current negotiations between the UK and the EU on their future relationship and has decided to revise a guide it produced two years ago on what happens if the talks fail.

In 2018, the leading academic think tank published What would trading on WTO terms mean? to explain what would happen if the UK left the EU without agreeing a deal and had to apply World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules to its dealings with the EU countries.

With the Government now insisting that the EU must compromise if the current talks are to be brought to a successful conclusion, and the EU arguing that the UK is going back on commitments reached in 2019’s Political Agreement between the two sides, the possibility that the talks will collapse without a deal is growing.

As a result, the think tank has updated its report, Revisited: What would ‘trading on WTO terms’ mean?

This can be found at

“Whether it is because of fishing rights, financial services, the EU’s insistence that the UK adhere to its level playing field, governance demands, or simply running out of time, it is far from clear that a trade deal will be successfully negotiated and approved by the end of 2020,” UK in a Changing Europe explains.

Its report is intended to explain what the WTO is and what trading on WTO terms means legally and practically. It covers matters such as rules of origin, tariffs, non-tariff barriers, intellectual property rights, border checks and trade in services.

It also looks at the complicated question of whether Northern Ireland will also trade with the EU on WTO terms.

The report acknowledges that WTO’s terms provide a basic floor for world trade but points out that countries tend to want to go further and tackle issues inadequately covered through WTO rules by agreements between themselves.

Falling back on the WTO option would significantly disrupt trade between the UK and the EU and even some UK trade with other parts of the world, the report concludes.