Yeah, about that… (Picture: PA)
Remember how leaving the EU was meant to be our chance to forge new trading relationships that worked for Britain?
Finally, we could jettison the rules which work for other countries in the bloc but not us – protecting trade for orange farmers, for example.
It would be simple to strike out alone, with expert negotiators getting us a sweet deal.
Well, trade minister Liam Fox has just given us a revealing indication that all is not going to be so easy.
His department has been investigating our commitments as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the organisation which regulates international trade for 164 countries.
Brexiteers wanted to change the rules on oranges (Picture: Getty)
The UK currently currently abides by the same conditions as other EU countries, as we come as a package deal.
You might imagine that Fox and his team would be busy working out a whole new way of interacting with the rest of the world, given the vote to leave the EU.
But this is what is actually happening, revealed in a statement to the House of Lords:
In order to minimise disruption to global trade as we leave the EU, over the coming period the Government will prepare the necessary draft schedules which replicate as far as possible our current obligations.
Yep, our industrious trade department is working day and night on replicating the status quo. Cool.
He doesn’t really have any other option, because under WTO rules, member states can launch a trade dispute with another country if they feel they haven’t been treated fairly.
So if Britain changed the terms, potentially affecting exporters in other countries who rely on the UK market, we could be hit with potentially dozens of trade disputes at a time when our economy is already fragile and we haven’t worked out new deals with the EU.
Essentially, our brave and bold trade plan looks so far like recreating the same terms we have already.
According to Ian Dunt, writing on Politics.co.uk: ‘In short, despite all the sound and the fury (…) the government is not aiming to change anything of any substance. Britain will keep the exact EU tariff system which Brexiters for so long said was strangling it.’
To be fair, Fox does say that he hopes the ‘eventual’ trading arrangements will be different and this is the interim plan.
But it’s an indication that the whole process will be based on tinkering rather than ripping up the rule book.