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The United Kingdom (UK) triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon on March 29, 2017, formally
launching its exit process from the European Union (EU) through a letter from Prime Minister (PM)
Theresa May to European Council President Donald Tusk. Article 50 allows up to two years for the UK
to negotiate and conclude an agreement with the EU setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal. In
the meantime, trading arrangements between the UK, the EU, and third countries are unchanged.
The PM’s office had previously issued a White Paper on February 2 with the Government’s twelve
objectives for the negotiations ahead. The Government released another White Paper on March 30
outlining its plans for converting the body of existing EU law (the “acquis”) into UK law wherever
practical. One of the twelve priorities set out in the February 2 White Paper was, “Ensuring free trade
with European markets.” While PM May confirmed in her letter to President Tusk that “...the UK does
not seek membership of the single market...”, she also emphasized that she believes “...it is necessary
to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European
Union.” She indicated, however, that “We recognize that it will be a challenge to reach such a
comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty.”
If the UK leaves the European Union without an agreement, PM May notes in her letter to President
Tusk that the default position is that the UK would have to trade with the EU on World Trade
Organization (WTO) terms. The UK is a WTO member in its own right but its Uruguay Round goods
schedules are included in those of the European Communities and it currently applies the EU’s common
external tariffs and the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary requirements to product from third countries.
The UK plans to establish its own separate WTO obligations for maximum tariffs, tariff rate quotas, etc.
through a rectification process to go into effect after it exits the EU.
“Securing new trade agreements with other countries” is also among the twelve priorities set out in the
February 2 White Paper. A proviso is included, however, that, “While we cannot agree new trade deals
until after we have left the EU, there is much that we can do to prepare and to achieve now, while
respecting our obligations as members of the EU.” more here