UK’s relationship with WTO unclear following Brexit

Labour Party

The complex process of understanding and moving through Brexit negotiations knows no bounds. Every day a new issue arises. Some of the problems are so grand that it’s difficult to know where to begin, trying to untangle the intricate web of complex legal and political ramifications.

One area I’ve recently been drawn to is the position of the UK and its membership to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) post Brexit.

Of course, currently our membership to the WTO is as part of our relationship with the EU.

If Brexit progresses, then obviously our membership with the WTO will naturally cease to exist. Some probably dismiss the problems of re-joining the organisation and believe the UK’s re admission would be a straight forward process and the UK’s wishes will be accommodated.

However, those who believe it to be so straightforward are completely misguided. They either ignore or are ignorant of the way business is conducted at WTO. Around 162 countries are members of the WTO and it conducts business by way of consensus rather than by strict voting. This can lead to all sorts of issues, chiefly that matters may not be resolved or at least this can’t be guaranteed.

Precisely because the WTO operates by way of consensus just one objection from any country will further stall the UK’s ability to re-join. As such ongoing disputes we have with other WTO states, an obvious example being Russia, could jeopardise the UK’s future position. Either way it won’t be a quick or simple process.

By the end of last week, a joint proposal for future membership between Brussels and the UK had broken down. Despite this the UK plans to speak during its 21-month transition period with an independent voice at the WTO table; a move the European Commission is resisting.

How the UK’s membership to the WTO will be resolved is an ongoing question and is just one example of the very many complexities surrounding Brexit.