Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet approved a draft plan for the United Kingdom to begin withdrawing from the European Union. With the plan’s approval came political and economic turmoil. Some Conservative members of the British Parliament, which must approve the plan if it is to be implemented, believe the withdrawal agreement would ensure that the United Kingdom remain under the European Union’s regulatory and trade regime in order to maintain a customs union between the two governments while eliminating the United Kingdom’s ability to influence the European Union’s rule making. That arrangement, those members of parliament say, does nothing to accomplish the original goals of Brexit: to ensure that the United Kingdom can forge an independent economic, regulatory, and trade policies.
The draft Brexit plan seeks to maintain stable trade between the United Kingdom and European Union. However, with its fate in British parliament in question, a chance remains for a hard Brexit that would see trade between the United Kingdom and European Union governed by World Trade Organization rules. Neither the draft Brexit plan or a hard Brexit would lead to a complete halt in trade between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, but the stakes are high. The United Kingdom’s total trade with the European Union in 2017 was valued at over 600 billion pounds, 274 billion pounds of which were exports to the European Union. The trading relationship between the United Kingdom and European Union is deep, complex, and large, but that does not mean that the Brexit process and outcome will have no impact on its strength.