On Tuesday 4th October, Brick Court Chambers hosted the first of its panel discussions on the legal implications of Brexit. All three panellists have substantial experience of trade negotiations, the EU and the WTO. The event was chaired by David Anderson QC, who opened the discussion by reference to Liam Fox’s recent statement that Britain will ‘lead the charge once more’ towards a world of free trade.
Roderick Abbott spoke first about the impact of Brexit on the UK economy, focusing on trade and investment. Mr Abbott observed that although uncertainty is the only visible effect on the UK economy at present, there will be an impact when the Article 50 negotiations are complete. Mr Abbott also considered what leaving the EU will mean in practice, and what will need to be replaced in the field of trade and investment. A new trade agreement with the EU will be essential, as will trade agreements with third countries. The UK’s role in the WTO will also need to be altered as the UK will no longer operate through EU commitments. In the absence of a customs union, a customs tariff will also be required.
Alastair Sutton opened his remarks by observing that it will not be possible for the UK both to stay in the single market and to control its borders. Access to the single market will therefore require negotiation. The remaining 27 Member States are looking at what they can achieve from Brexit, each with their own sectoral and micro-economic interests, and the capacity for individual states to disrupt the negotiation process will be huge. Mr Sutton also observed that the UK has resolved to exclude itself from the fora where decisions made, despite the fact the UK has driven the direction of trade policy in the past. The UK will need to adhere to EU technical standards in order to trade with Europe but will no longer have any role in setting such standards. Citing TTIP as an example, Mr Sutton considered that the size of the EU bloc gives it considerable bargaining power. The UK should not be expecting any favours.
Finally, Andrew Hood spoke from his recent experience at the heart of Government about some of the practical challenges faced by the UK Government in moving towards a free trade model. Referring to the length and technicality of the EU-Canada trade agreement, and observing that the UK has not negotiated a trade agreement for 43 years, Mr Hood considered that the task ahead is ‘mammoth’. The Civil Service must ‘tool up’, although this must now be done against the backdrop of huge changes to the Government’s departmental structure. Mr Hood also noted the commercial concerns surrounding the potential gap between Brexit and the completion of new trade arrangements. He called on the Government to provide guidance in this regard to reduce the damaging commercial uncertainty.
A Q&A session followed the presentations. Questions concerned the opportunities arising from Brexit, the UK’s position in the WTO, the concurrency of exit and trade negotiations, and the consequences of failing to complete negotiations within two years.
The next panel discussion on the legal implications of Brexit will consider Jurisdiction and Choice of Law. It will be held on Monday 17 October 2016 at 6pm at The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1PL.