Post-Brexit Trade Policy Autonomy as Pyrrhic Victory: Being A Middle Power in a Contested Trade Regime

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The Leave camp and prominent Brexiteers typically present regaining political control over international trade policy after Brexit as one advantage of leaving the European Union. A newly-autonomous UK government, so the argument goes, will be free to negotiate wide-reaching and ambitious trade agreements with the world and will not be restricted by the compromise-culture inherent in supranational, Brussels-based deliberations. In the absence of clear formulations of Britain’s post-Brexit trade political agenda, much of the debate remains hypothetical at this point. Yet, from a global governance perspective, it is clear that the institutional and legal architecture for international trade cooperation is currently fragmented. Given WTO negotiating deadlocks, the institutional strain resulting from parallel country-by-country negotiations, regulatory clash in the existing network of preferential trade agreements, and the UK’s new position as a middle power in the trade regime, this essay argues that Britain may find it more difficult to push its own trade agenda internationally than is currently conceded in the debate. With the global trade regime currently shifting back towards more power-based forms of international interactions, regaining trade policy autonomy post-Brexit may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the new trade middle power Britain.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date30 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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