Manifesto Policy Explainer International trade

International trade has not featured as a centrepiece in the election campaigns. But all parties agree on the necessity to boost the UK’s position in the global arena and support British exporters.

The big difference between party commitments is the approach to the UK’s relationship with the EU. Should the UK rejoin the Customs Union? Should the UK negotiate individual sectoral agreements? How should the UK approach the review of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA)?

What do the parties say?


  • Continue to pursue Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with international partners, including completing ongoing negotiations with India and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
  • Build on the UK-EU TCA but ensure that the current deal is being adhered to before making commitments that might disadvantage UK sovereignty or UK exporters.
  • Rule out the possibility of the UK rejoining the EU Customs Union.


  • Connect trade policy closer to foreign and industrial policy, and publish a trade strategy to give UK businesses better access to international markets.
  • Pursue a ‘quality not quantity’ approach to FTAs, as well as negotiating standalone sector deals such as digital or mutual recognition agreements to promote services exporters.
  • Rule out the possibility of a return to the EU Customs Union, the Single Market or freedom of movement.
  • Improve the UK’s relationship with the EU by negotiating a veterinary agreement, helping touring artists and securing a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications.
  • Sign a UK-EU security pact to strengthen defence and address geopolitical pressures.

Liberal Democrats:

  • Implement a four-stage roadmap for fixing the UK’s relationship with the EU:
  • Improving channels for collaboration and foreign policy alignment.
  • Seeking to rejoin EU partnerships or associations such as the Erasmus scheme, scientific programmes and environmental initiatives.
  • Negotiating a veterinary agreement and a mutual recognition agreement.
  • Rejoin the EU Customs Union.

Reform UK:

  • Scrap the just over 6,700 EU laws Britain has retained with immediate effect.
  • Abandon the Windsor Framework so Northern Irish citizens are not bound by EU laws.
  • Rescind the UK’s commitment to the EU Horizon programme.
  • Prepare for the review of the TCA to stop the EU’s level playing field from holding back UK opportunity.

The Green Party:

  • Ensure all international trade agreements respect workers’ and consumers’ rights and meet animal protection and environmental standards.
  • Leverage the UK’s financial services sector to help the world’s transition to a sustainable carbon-neutral global economy.
  • Rejoin the EU as quickly as possible, with first steps being rejoining the EU Customs Union, rejoining the Erasmus programme and returning to the freedom of movement of people.

About the author

image of Emma Rowland

Emma Rowland,

Policy Advisor at the Institute of Directors

Emma leads on the IoD’s policy work on international trade and EU affairs. She works with UK businesses, trade bodies and the government to advocate on behalf of IoD members on issues relating to the UK’s trading relationship with the EU, Free Trade Agreements, supply chain disruption and geopolitics.

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