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Frictionless Trade? What Brexit means for cross-border trade in goods: What Brexit means for cross-border trade in goods

A customs deal is necessary but not sufficient for frictionless trade after Brexit.


A deal on customs is important to reducing post-Brexit trade friction, but is only half the story. Our report Frictionless Trade? What Brexit means for cross-border trade in goods, says leaving the EU will disrupt the country’s important integrated supply chains in areas like automobile manufacturing. It will create friction in cross-border trade in goods.

The paper examines five potential options for future trade:

  •   A deep and comprehensive free trade deal, including customs cooperation
  •   A new customs union agreement
  •   Staying in the Single Market
  •   Combining staying in the Single Market with a new customs union arrangement
  •   Leaving with no deal and trading with the EU on WTO terms.

The authors find that while 'off-the-shelf' options – staying in the Single Market (the Norway model) or a new customs union (the EU-Turkey model) – could remove some disruption, none eliminate friction entirely. Leaving with no deal would put the UK in a worse place than any other major trading partner and will maximise disruption, evidenced by the fact that no major country trades with the EU on WTO terms alone.

However, the authors say the Government is right to argue that friction at the border could be reduced by a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement including customs cooperation. But the options that might be easiest to negotiate are those that are most likely to cross current UK negotiating red lines.


Country (international)
European Union
May government
Public figures
Theresa May
Institute for Government

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