One of the key questions about Brexit is its effect on UK trade and cross-border investment. Once outside the customs union, will the freedom to negotiate trade deals lead to an increase in UK exports and GDP, as many who support Brexit claim; or will the increased frictions in trade with the EU, and the need to negotiate new trade deals with those non-EU countries which already have trade deals with the EU, lead to a fall in exports and in GDP?
Also, how will trade restrictions or new trade deals affect capital flows? Will there be an increase in inward investment or a flight of investment to the EU or elsewhere? Will many companies relocate away from the UK – or to it?
Although there has been a cost up to now from the Brexit vote, in terms of a depreciation in sterling and a fall in inward investment (see the first article below), the future effects have been hard to predict as the terms on which the UK will leave the EU have been unclear. However, with a draft withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK government having been reached, the costs and benefits are becoming clearer. But there is still uncertainty about just what the effects on trade and investment will be.
- First, the 585-page draft withdrawal agreement is not a trade deal. It contains details of UK payments to the EU, commitments on the rights of EU and UK citizens and confirmation of the transition period – initially until 31 December 2020, but possibly extended with mutual agreement. During the transition agreement, the UK would remain a member of the customs union and single market and remain subject to rulings of the European Court of Justice. The withdrawal agreement also provides for a continuation of the customs union beyond the transition period, if no long-term trade agreement is in place. This is to prevent he need for a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
- Second, there is merely a 26-page ‘political declaration‘ about future trade relations. Negotiations on the details of these can only begin once the UK has left the EU, scheduled for 29 March 2019. So it’s still unclear about just how free trade in both goods and services will be between the UK and the EU and how freely capital and labour will move between them. But with the UK outside the single market, there will be some limitations on trade and factor movements – some frictions.
- Third, it is not clear whether the UK Parliament will agree to the withdrawal agreement. Currently, it seems as if a majority of MPs is in favour of rejecting it. If this happens, will the UK leave without an agreement, with trade based on WTO terms? Or will the EU be prepared to renegotiate it – something it currently says it will not do? Or will the issue be put back to the electorate in the form of a People’s vote (see also), which might contain the option of seeking to remain in the EU?
So, without knowing just what the UK’s future trade relations will be with (a) the EU, (b) non-EU countries which have negotiated trade deals with the EU, (c) other countries without trade deals with the EU, it is impossible to quantify the costs and benefits from the effects on trade and investment. However, the consensus among economists is still that there will be a net cost in terms of lost trade and inward investment.
Such as view is backed by a government analysis of various Brexit scenarios, released in time for the House of Commons vote on 11 December. This concludes that the UK will be worse off under all Brexit alternatives compared with staying in the EU. The main brake on growth will be frictions in trade from tariff and non-tariff barriers.
This analysis was supported by a Bank of England paper which modelled various scenarios based on assumptions about different types of Brexit deal. While recognising the inherent uncertainty in some of the empirical relationships, it still concluded that Brexit would be likely to have a net negative effect. The size of this negative effect would depend on the closeness of the new relationship between the UK and EU, the degree of preparedness across firms and critical infrastructure, and how other policies respond.
- Brexit has already hurt EU and non-EU exports by up to 13% – new research
- How has Brexit vote affected UK economy? November verdict
- The truth about a no-deal Brexit
- Brexit ‘political declaration’ fails to guarantee EU-UK frictionless trade
- Brexit political declaration fails to offer frictionless trade
- Brexit will make UK worse off, government forecasts warn
- Analysis shows economy would be 3.9% smaller under Theresa May’s Brexit deal
- Theresa May’s Brexit plan would result in 4% hit to GDP
- The economic cost of Brexit is unavoidable – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it
The Conversation, Terence Huw Edwards, Christian Soegaard and Mustapha Douch (24/10/18)
Guardian Brexit Watch, Richard Partington (21/11/18)
The Economist (24/11/18)
The Guardian, Daniel Boffey, Jennifer Rankin and Dan Sabbagh (22/11/18)
BBC News (28/11/18)
The Scotsman, Paris Gourtsoyannis (28/11/18)
Financial Times, Chris Giles (28/11/18)
The Conversation, Anand Menon and Matthew Bevington (29/11/18)
- The Economic Effects of the Prime Minister’s Brexit Deal (see also Press Release)
- The economic consequences of the Brexit deal (see also Press Release)
- EU Exit: Long-term economic analysis
- EU withdrawal scenarios and monetary and financial stability: A response to the House of Commons Treasury Committee
National Institute of Economic and Social Research, Arno Hantzsche, Amit Kara and Garry Young (26/11/18)
Centre for Economics Performance (LSE) and UK in a Changing Europe (Kings College), Anand Menon and Jonathan Portes (27/11/18)
HM Government (28/11/18)
Bank of England (28/11/18)
- Draft Withdrawal Agreement
- Draft Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union
European Commission, Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU (14/11/18)
Department for Exiting the European Union (22/11/18)
- Identify the main economic advantages and disadvantages for the UK from leaving the EU?
- How does the law of comparative advantage relate to the question of the relative trade gains from leaving and remaining in the EU?
- What is the difference between the following models of relationship with the EU: the Switzerland model; the Norway model; the Turkey model; the Canada (plus or plus, plus) model; trading on WTO terms?
- Why is the consensus among economists that there will be a net economic cost from leaving the EU, no matter on what terms?
- Is the UK likely to achieve more favourable trade deals with non-EU countries as an independent country or as a member of the EU benefiting from EU-negotiated trade deals with such countries?