The UK voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016. While this decision had immediate economic, political and social impacts, the legal implications will be more gradual and, as yet, there have been no changes to EU or UK law.
Following the enactment of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 on 16 March 2017, the UK Government served notice (on 29 March 2017) under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union of its intention to withdraw from the EU. That notification triggered the start of a two year Brexit negotiation period between the UK and EU. On 18 April 2017, Theresa May announced that she was calling a General Election for 8 June 2017, with a view to ensuring that the UK has a strong negotiating position when discussions with the EU start.
The UK Government’s position on key aspects of Brexit was set out in the Article 50 notice, in a speech by Theresa May on 17 January 2017 and in a White Paper published by the UK Government on 2 February 2017. Notably:
- ‘Hard’ Brexit: the UK Government intends to exit the single market (in particular in light of its desire to impose certain controls on immigration) and negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, and individual free trade agreements with other non-EU countries. As this option does not involve EEA membership, it will result in the loss of the financial services passport. The UK Government also intends to exit the current customs union arrangements, but wants to negotiate tariff-free trade with Europe and build its future international trade relationships based on its membership of the World Trade Organisation. Theresa May also emphasised that maintaining the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland is of key importance.
- Phased approach: Article 50 provides for a two year negotiation period which can be extended if the European Council unanimously agrees to do so. Theresa May has signalled the UK Government’s wish to agree on the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU within that two year period (i.e. by the end of March 2019), although the EU, in its negotiating guidelines, confirmed that it wants “sufficient progress” made on the exit negotiations before negotiations start on the shape of the future UK-EU relationship. The UK Government is also hoping for a phased implementation process across various key areas, with a view to avoiding a ‘cliff-edge’ effective date for Brexit.
- Laws: the UK Government intends to present a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ to Parliament to set out how it intends to convert the existing body of EU law that applies in the UK into UK law, with a view to maximising certainty as to what laws will apply when Brexit takes effect. A White Paper on that bill was published on 30 March 2017.
Our Brexit briefings provide further details on Brexit-related developments:
- Brexit Update May 2017
- Brexit: The Great Repeal Bill
- 50 triggered: Brexit negotiations can begin
- January 2017 Briefing on the Supreme Court decision on Article 50
- November 2016 Brexit Update
- November 2016 Briefing on the High Court ruling on Article 50
Arthur Cox has been closely monitoring developments on Brexit and we have been advising, and will continue to advise, our clients in Ireland, the UK and further afield on the potential legal implications for their businesses of the UK leaving the EU. The key areas in which we believe that principal changes will take place are:
- Banking and financial regulation
- Consumer law issues – sale of goods and supply of services
- Competition law
- Employment law
- Procurement law
- Data privacy
- Intellectual property
- Energy and natural resources.
We are also mindful of the implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland and free movement of goods and people across the border. Together with our colleagues in our Belfast office, we have an all-island perspective on these issues. Avoiding a hard border has been highlighted as a priority in the EU’s negotiating guidelines and by Michel Barnier in his recent visit to Ireland. The recently published Conservative Party Manifesto also highlighted the UK Government’s desire to maintain the Common Travel Area and ensure “as frictionless a border as possible”.
We will be issuing further briefings as further developments occur.
If you have any questions on Brexit, please contact your usual Arthur Cox contact or any member of our Brexit Team.