How does the EU help, or hinder, the UK’s ability to negotiate trade deals?

Leaving the EU would be ‘catastrophic’ 

Virgin founder, Richard Branson, says if the UK exits the EU the country’s hands would be ‘tied behind our back’ in future trade negotiations.

How does the UK make trade deals?

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is responsible for the rules supporting all global trade agreements. These rules are set by the 161 WTO member governments, which include the UK and all EU member states.

On its own, the UK would be one voice among 161.


EU countries punch above their weight by working together. They have more influence in the WTO by agreeing on common trade positions that benefit them all and voting the same way at the WTO. They form the largest trade bloc in the world.

  • The WTO has 161 member states
  • The EU holds 29 seats: 28 member states, including the UK + 1 EU delegate

The UK uses the EU’s collective bargaining power to further its own trade objectives.

The UK supervises the EU’s WTO representative who speaks on behalf of all 28 EU member states, following positions pre-agreed between EU member governments. Even though the UK and other EU members let the EU rep speak on their behalf, everyone can still send national representatives to lobby WTO countries individually. 

This ensures the UK’s voice is still heard while giving it additional voting clout it simply wouldn’t have alone.

“…the more that a country or a member is in a position to join with others in defending a particular idea or a particular agenda, the easier it is to push through its interests.”
– WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo

Outside of the EU, the UK would lose bargaining power and a seat in the WTO’s largest voting group.