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Economy Economy

Be a global champion for an open economy and free trade

Last updated: 07:31pm 24 November 2019

The United Kingdom will be a global champion for an open economy, free trade, and the free flow of investment, ideas and information. Open and free trade is key to international prosperity, stability and security – it is an essential component of an economy that works for everyone. We believe the UK must seize the unique opportunities it has to forge a new set of trade and investment relationships around the world, building a global, outward-looking Britain.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.38

Our verdict

The trend towards free trade in Britain began as early as the 1840s. In 1960, the UK was a co-founder of the European Free Trade Association, a no-tariffs area based on free competition, existing in parallel to the European Economic Community (EEC). More European states preferred the EEC model, under which deregulation is balanced by cooperation programmes such as the European Regional Development Fund and the Common Agricultural Policy, leading the UK to join the European Communities in 1973. In addition, in 1995, the UK joined the World Trade Order.  As a member of the European Union (EU), Britain benefits from around 40 free trade agreements with over 70 countries. The EU is our main trade partner. This is a pledge to be a global champion for an open economy, free trade, and the free flow of investment, ideas and information.

The main development impacting on free trade under this government has been the UK’s planned exit from the EU. The government has engaged in intensive negotiations with the EU over the terms of that exit. In October 2019, the government published its temporary tariffs regime, promising to lower tariffs on as much as 88% of imports.

To date, the government has formed 18 “continuity deals”  with countries with whom it currently trades as an EU member. Taken together, these deals account for about 8% of total UK trade. A free trade agreement with the US has been mentioned but nothing has been confirmed.

The government has worked towards exiting the European Union, replacing 18 of its current free trade deal agreements. It is hard to say, however, that trade ties with other countries have improved. This policy goes to the heart of arguments around Brexit. With both Leave and Remain advocates claiming theirs is the path to an open economy and improved trade arrangements, with economic outcomes as yet unknown and trade deals being negotiated, this policy remains ‘in progress’.

Trade freely in the details!

There's always room for debate

We’re serious about providing clear, up-to-date, non-partisan information. We focus on being consistent and fair in how we reach our verdicts, and always explain our reasoning. But there is always room for debate. So if you see it differently, we’d love you to tell us why. Or even better, submit an edit.