Talking Brexit and trading on WTO terms – with Jason Hunter, Stuart Brown and Graham Hughes

Two well-attended events on the implications of leaving the EU without a deal and trading on the World Trade Organisation terms took place on consecutive evenings in the local area. The first on Wednesday 26th September at the Trinity Church, Trowbridge, the next on Thursday 27th September at Widcombe Social Club, Bath.

Jason Hunter, an international trade negotiator who specialises in the legal and commercial relationships between the EU, UK and WTO, spoke at both events. At Trowbridge he was joined by Stuart Brown, an international trade negotiator who has spoken widely on trade and Brexit. Jason spoke again the following evening in the informal setting of the bar at Widcombe Social Club, this time with Graham Hughes, two of the “Three Blokes in a Pub”, a social media hit sensation.

The Trowbridge event was introduced by Stewart Palmén, a Trowbridge Councillor, who spoke of his family background across Europe. He stressed that it was this, as much as any facts about European trade and integration, that makes him feel European and in favour of the EU.


Above left to right: Stewart Palmén, Stuart Brown, Jason Hunter and Chris Hoar

Stuart Brown spoke of the need to approach Brexit (like any major policy) as an exercise in project management. An implementation plan is needed, one that recognises that Brexit is a basket of interlinked things, much of which we have little control over. He stressed that it’s unhelpful to talk of ‘striking’ trade deals (as much of the media do). Trade deals are much more complicated than that. We have to understand where we are, what the risks are, and look not just to a long-term vision, but to the shorter-term implementation process. In particular it’s crucial to maintain foreign trade during the transition to a new trade regime. He has little confidence that the government is approaching Brexit in this objective way.

Stuart was followed by Jason Hunter, who talked about the implications of leaving the EU without a deal, a prospect he feels is ever more likely. The following evening Jason spoke on the same themes with Graham Hughes at Widcombe Social Club.

Based on their expertise in international trade negotiations and fresh from meetings with the World Trade Organisation in Geneva and EU officials in Brussels, at Widcombe the pair detailed the state of play with Brexit, especially the implications of a leaving without a deal. They provided the audience with a great mix of facts about world trade, along with an engaging question and answer session and down-to-earth pub conversation and humour.

‘It will be like slamming the car into first gear at top speed on the motorway’ was one of the vivid – and frightening – descriptions of what will happen if Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal next March. The speakers highlighted how this is becoming more and more likely, as the clock runs down on the Brexit negotiations and with the prospect of a deal diminishing by the day.

The experts also reminded the audience that the country needed a wake-up call on the implications of Article 50, which states that in the event of a no deal departure, all treaties between the member state in question and the EU would be cancelled. This means that over 700 treaties could cease to apply from 11.00pm on 29th March 2019. They govern a wide range of essentials of modern life, from trade to transport, and from medicines to international policing and security. According to Brussels officials, the UK have only carried out around 5% of the necessary preparation required for such a “no deal” scenario.

The speakers also likened EU countries to a shoal of fish being circled by killer sharks waiting to prey on the weaker ones. Without a deal, they said, the British agri-food sector will be particularly vulnerable and could be devastated within two years of leaving.

The pair were pessimistic about the prospects of a deal with the EU in the few short weeks left for negotiations. However, they were optimistic that Brexit can be stopped via a People’s Vote and believed that more and more politicians and people across the country are beginning to understand better the consequences of Brexit and the need for a People’s Vote based on the facts.

Ian Bartle