UK faces ‘fishing in more corrupt waters’ after Brexit, expert warns

Professor Dan Hough has warned that Britain could be forced into trade deals with corrupt countries following Brexit.

A leading expert in worldwide corruption has today (25 January) warned Britain could be forced into trade deals with some of the most corrupt countries in the world after exiting the EU.

Professor Dan Hough, of the University of Sussex, says Brexit could mean the UK Government and British businesses having to "fish in more corrupt waters" as they seek trade partners around the globe.

The warning comes as Transparency International (TI) released its annual league table today of the most and least corrupt countries in the world. The index states no country is free of corruption; however, TI looks at characteristics of open government, press freedom, civil liberties and independent judicial systems when compiling its list.

Although Britain has remained the same as last year in 10th position, Professor Hough, Director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption (SCSC), has called on Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure the Government doesn’t become "complacent".

He said: “With Brexit, and the need to hunt out new business in developing markets, there is a real worry that a process of ‘do nothing’ may set in. Politicians could easily assume that the need to maintain economic competitiveness would be helped by having a much lighter touch when regulating business activities.

“If Britain aims to expand trade links with countries such as Brazil, India and China then British business will clearly have to deal with environments where corruption is at least perceived to be more prevalent than it is in the UK. If this is the case, UK businesses will be fishing in more corrupt waters.”

Professor Hough says former PM David Cameron played a leading role in developing the UK’s anti-corruption agenda and had promised the Government would publish a national Anti-Corruption Strategy by the end of 2016, but this has yet to appear.

But Professor Hough believes the post-Brexit era "could see strong behind the scenes lobbying for key parts of the UK’s anti-corruption legal framework to be watered down".

He added: “Brexit and David Cameron’s departure has thrown UK anti-corruption thinking into a state of flux. On the one hand there is the danger of more or less deliberate neglect of the UK’s previously high profile anti-corruption thinking. On the other there are worries that economic challenges may lead to pressures to review parts of the UK Bribery Act that are seen to constrain UK business activities abroad.

“There is little ground for complacency. The UK’s impending departure from the EU may mean that the UK’s eye slips well and truly off the anti-corruption ball.”

Posted on behalf of: School of Law, Politics and Sociology
Last updated: Friday, 27 January 2017