WTO the facts.

With January 31st literally closing in I thought I would help some of your understanding re what WTO rules mean in a nutshell. I have stuck some actual facts together for you to help although I confess to help from fullfact.org

No £39 billion release payment

There are many things said about what we could and couldn’t have if we left the EU without a deal, WTO rules some might say. As part of Boris’ withdrawal agreement, the UK has agreed to pay its outstanding financial liabilities to the EU, estimated at £39 billion. If we left with no deal, it’s uncertain how much of that we’d have to pay, if anything.

No more annual payments of £26-32bn

This seems to be referring to the UK’s annual payments into the EU budget, though it’s unclear. If that’s the case it’s incorrect.

In 2017 the UK government paid £13 billion into to the EU budget after the rebate had been applied (which gives the UK a discount on its contributions). The EU was then forecast to spend £4 billion on the UK public sector leaving a “net” contribution of nearly £9 billion.

Additionally the EU spent money on the UK’s private sector, reducing the UK’s net contribution further to around £5 billion in 2017. If we leave the EU without a deal, it’s possible that we may not have to pay anything to the EU.

No customs union.

Leaving the EU with no deal means leaving the customs union. Correct.

Under the withdrawal deal we’d stay in the customs union until the end of the transition period which is the end of 2020. It’s the government’s intention to leave the customs union once the transition period ends. But if a future trading relationship isn’t agreed between the UK and EU during that time the Irish issue will rear it’s head again some kind of arrangements would kick in and the UK could remain in a form of customs union until an agreement could be reached or not if we do as Boris cites and let N.I. continue with their arrangement .. which still isn’t too clear on our relationship and whether or not there will be a border down the Irish Sea?

No single market.

Correct, leaving the EU with no deal means leaving the single market.

Under the draft withdrawal deal we’d stay in the single market until the end of the transition period. It’s the government’s intention to leave the single market once the transition period ends. If the Irish backstop arrangements kick in, then Northern Ireland will remain aligned to some of the rules of the single market.


It’s correct that leaving with no deal would remove the jurisdiction ofthe European Court of Justice (ECJ). Under the withdrawal agreement, the UK would continue to follow EU law (with a few exceptions) and the rulings of the ECJ during transition period. What happens after the transition period would depend on the outcome of UK-EU negotiations.

But it’s incorrect to say that a no deal Brexit will end the role of the European Court of Human Rights. This court has nothing to do with the EU and post-Brexit the UK will still remain a member. You can read more about the ECHR here.

Free trade with the world!

Free trade is a somewhat hazy phrase but one definition might be that free trade is when international trade happens without tariffs, quotas or other restrictions.

Following a no deal Brexit, the trade agreements we’re already signed up to as a member of the EU will cease to apply and trade will take place under WTO rules.

Under WTO rules, countries set their own import rules, so a no deal Brexit means that the government could, in theory, allow goods and services from all countries across the world to be imported into the UK without tariffs or quotas.

But it doesn’t mean other countries would have to do the same, meaning that UK exports to those countries would, in many cases, face tariffs and restrictions.

In any case, the government have said that under a no deal Brexit scenario, tariffs would still apply to 13% of goods (by value) imported into the UK for up to 12 months. During that time it will undertake a review on a long-term approach to tariffs.

Another way of thinking about free trade is that the UK would be able to decide for itself how trade with other countries would operate. In the longer-term a no deal Brexit would give the UK the greatest agency over its future trade deals, although the exact terms would have to be agreed in negotiation with each individual country. These deals would likely take years to negotiate.

Of course if the deal does end up ending with some kind of accord between UK and the EU … then anything could be on the table the Good, the Bad or even the Ugly. Hope that helps.