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Brexit and trade policy: an analysis of the governance of UK trade policy and what it means for health and social justice

Van Schalkwyk, M., Barlow, P., Siles-Brugge, G. , Jarman, H., Hervey, T. ORCID: 0000-0002-8310-9022 & McKee, M. (2021). Brexit and trade policy: an analysis of the governance of UK trade policy and what it means for health and social justice. Globalization and Health, 17(1), article number 61. doi: 10.1186/s12992-021-00697-1


There is an extensive body of research demonstrating that trade and globalisation can have wide-ranging implications for health. Robust governance is key to ensuring that health, social justice and sustainability are key considerations within trade policy, and that health risks from trade are effectively mitigated and benefits are maximised. The UK’s departure from the EU provides a rare opportunity to examine a context where trade governance arrangements are being created anew, and to explore the consequences of governance choices and structures for health and social justice. Despite its importance to public health, there has been no systematic analysis of the implications of UK trade policy governance. We therefore conducted an analysis of the governance of the UK’s trade policy from a public health and social justice perspective.

Several arrangements required for good governance appear to have been implemented information provision, public consultation, accountability to Parliament, and strengthening of civil service capacity. However, our detailed analyses of these pillars of governance identified significant weaknesses in each of these areas.

The establishment of a new trade policy agenda calls for robust systems of governance. However, our analysis demonstrates that, despite decades of mounting evidence on the health and equity impacts of trade and the importance of strong systems of governance, the UK government has largely ignored this evidence and failed to galvanise the opportunity to include public health and equity considerations and strengthen democratic involvement in trade policy. This underscores the point that the evidence alone will not guarantee that health and justice are prioritised. Rather, we need strong systems of governance everywhere that can help seize the health benefits of international trade and minimise its detrimental impacts. A failure to strengthen governance risks poor policy design and implementation, with unintended and inequitable distribution of harms, and ‘on-paper’ commitments to health, social justice, and democracy unfulfilled in practice. Although the detailed findings relate to the situation in the UK, the issues raised are, we believe, of wider relevance for those with an interest of governing for health in the area of international trade.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: population health; political determinants of health; health policy; social justice; democracy; trade policy; governance; Brexit; transparency; participation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
J Political Science > JZ International relations
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: The City Law School > Academic Programmes
SWORD Depositor:
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