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Three Narratives on the United Kingdom’s Trade Agreements post-Brexit

Koutrakos, P. ORCID: 0000-0002-2346-4057 (2022). Three Narratives on the United Kingdom’s Trade Agreements post-Brexit. In: Lazowski, A. & Cygan, A. (Eds.), Research Handbook on Legal Aspects of Brexit. (pp. 403-422). Cheltenham, UK: E Elgar Publishing.


Trade agreements do not normally set the pulse racing. They come about following a process that takes time and energy, involves painstaking negotiations about technical and complex issues most of which are rarely known to audiences other than the industries affected by them. Brexit, however, has brought trade agreements to the centre of public discourse.1 This is due to the central role that the UK’s international stature took both during the campaign that led to the referendum of 23 June 2016 and the post-referendum period. It has been claimed, in particular, that Brexit would unshackle the UK from the heavy-handed and inflexible trade policy imposed by the European Union and would unleash the potential of the country as an effective and lithe actor so as to allow it to negotiate ambitious trade deals with many third countries.

This chapter will analyse the law and practice of trade agreements in the context of Brexit, covering the period after the 2016 referendum, the transition period as well as the period after 1 January 2021. In doing so, it will identify and explore three main narratives that have dominated the debate in the area: the first was about cakeism, based on the assumption that the pre-Brexit trade agreements would continue to apply to the UK while the latter would enjoy all the benefits of an independent trade actor; the second was about continuity and was based on the claim that all pre-existing trade agreements would be extended; the third is about Global Britain and draws on the understanding that the UK is now unshackled from the heavy-handed and inflexible trade policy imposed by the EU and free to pursue its own trade policy. The analysis unpacks these narratives, reflects on their implications, and shows how the claims they advance have been misguided in law, misleading in fact, and vacuous in substance.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This is a draft chapter. The final version is available in Research Handbook on Legal Aspects of Brexit edited by Lazowski, A. & Cygan, A., published in 2022, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd The material cannot be used for any other purpose without further permission of the publisher, and is for private use only.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JX International law
K Law > KD England and Wales
Departments: The City Law School > Academic Programmes
The City Law School > Institute for the Study of European Laws
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