Leading Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg has often lauded the possibility of ‘falling back on the WTO’ in the event
of a no deal Brexit. Speaking to the Express, Mr Rees-Mogg said that in the event of a no deal, ‘I think we
shouldn’t be afraid of a free trade deal on the base [sic] of World Trade Organisation. That is opening up
trade with lots of other countries, there are opportunities to take it further and it would allow us to get on
with the rest of the world sooner because it wouldn’t have an implementation period.’
The aim of this report is to explain – in the simplest possible terms – what is the WTO and to address some
of the (mis)conceptions about what ‘falling back on the WTO’ actually means in the event of a no deal
Brexit. By no deal, we have two situations in mind.
1) The Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the Westminster Parliament (or the European
2) The Withdrawal Agreement is successfully concluded and a transition period is entered into which
expires on 31 December 2020. However, at the end of the transition period (and any extension)
no free trade agreement is concluded between the EU and the UK.
This report is written by experts in the field of WTO law but who want to explain WTO rules in terms
accessible to non-experts. A shorter version of this report is also available. Our thanks go to Katy Hayward,
David Henig, Holger Hestermeyer, Emilija Leinarte, Sam Lowe, Steve Peers and Peter Ungphakorn for their
The report is structured around a series of questions. Each chapter takes one specific issue and tries to
answer common questions arising around that question.
Catherine Barnard and Anand Menon