ON June 23 2016, the United Kingdom experienced a phenomenon that is the epitome of the democratic process.

This was the government reverting a choice to the people. Usually saved for very important issues facing a society, referendums involve decisions that can alter the future of a society.

The polarisation of views as to whether being part of the European Union was a benefit to the UK, and the growing discord within the community, led to the referendum.

The decision for the UK to exit the EU is indeed impactful and will alter the course of the UK’s future.

But what does the UK have to do as a result of Brexit? Like every other nation, The UK needs allies and trading partners. It will require a foreign policy to pursue its interests internationally.

Observing the build up to the referendum, it was most frustrating to see the lack of real information that should have been incorporated into the decision making process.

The leave campaigners made sweeping statements that did not reflect the realities of leaving the EU. They mentioned the wider fora such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Commonwealth, but did not explain how leaving the EU would impact on the UK’s obligations globally.

Focussing on the overarching concern that any approach to Brexit needs to consider, these are the variables the government needs to consider regarding the negotiations.

Foreign relations are exercised through a country’s diplomacy in the international fora. Diplomacy is about balancing interests and bargaining to strike an agreement on the way a country or group of countries will behave.

This will often involve give and take, in giving up some right, it is important that what a country is receiving in return is of equal or greater value to its interests.

When the UK acceded to the EU it under went this process. Now that it wants to leave, a similar process must ensue. Some believe that the UK should just exit the EU without any negotiations. This approach is inadvisable as the UK needs its allies and trading partners. It needs the goodwill of its neighbours that will for example, allow land, sea or even air passage to the UK, thereby keeping the price of imported items affordable in the UK.

If the UK wants any more than merely maintaining goodwill, like some of the privileges it used to enjoy as a EU member, then through its diplomats, it needs to negotiate these rights. Remembering, that upon leaving the EU, all previously enjoyed benefits will be lost. So each member of the EU and the UK has to engage in negotiations to move relations beyond goodwill.

However, any special privileges that the UK is seeking from the EU will be breaching the UK’s, the EU (collectively) and every member of the EU’s (individually) obligations under the WTO as they are all WTO members.

This is a global trade agreement, built upon the foundations of non-discrimination. Therefore, all 164 members of the WTO across the globe must provide each other with non-discriminatory treatment. There are some exceptions where this non-discriminatory rule can be displaced.

To work out some privileges for the UK over and above what other WTO members enjoy, there has to be the establishment of a formalised Customs Union or Free Trade Area between the UK and the EU according to Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994.

Therefore, whatever the UK does in relation to Brexit, if it still wants some privileges from its neighbours beyond what is enjoyed by the rest of the 164 members of the WTO, it will need to negotiate an agreement that meets the criteria set in this section of the General Agreement.

There is no easy way to address this issue. The UK will need to buy itself out by paying what it committed to prior to the decision to leave, to maintain goodwill, and then buy its way in by providing concessions and forfeiting some of its rights and/or autonomy to create an agreement with the EU that satisfies its needs and interests whilst ensuring that this agreement is WTO compliant.