International Law

UK law firms scramble to provide answers for Brexit questions

  • Print

UK and EU flags ripped diagonally in half

The uncertainty surrounding life and laws in the United Kingdom following the vote to leave the European Union has left law firms scrambling, and at the moment there are more questions than answers.

While U.K. voters decided on Thursday to leave the EU in a nationwide referendum by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent, the referendum is nonbinding, and it is unclear at the moment when “Brexit” will occur. The U.K. would be the first country to leave the EU.

Simmons & Simmons partner Charles Bankes, who is on the firm’s Brexit team, said the difficulty at the moment is the uncertainty surrounding a variety of issues related to Brexit, which calls into question mergers and acquisitions, regulatory authority and the timing of events.

“People are still trying to work out what on earth it means,” Bankes said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

Law firms in London have turned to a variety of methods to assure and inform their clients about the situation: podcasts, briefings, conference calls, hotlines, websites and webinars.

Baker & McKenzie has a dedicated Brexit page with briefing papers and will hold a Brexit webinar on Wednesday. Allen & Overy’s website has links to 22 papers on the subject. Clifford Chance hosted a 24-hour operations room to answer questions following the vote. Simmons & Simmons created a Brexit microsite that includes a podcast, advisory papers and a list of those on the Brexit team. They also provided a hotline for clients on Friday in the wake of the decision.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, questions also were raised about the status of European-qualified lawyers who practice in England and Wales. The Solicitors Regulations Authority released a statement Friday assuring European lawyers that there was no change at the moment in their ability to practice.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said in a statement: “Any transition will take time and it would be premature to draw any further conclusions at this point.”

The U.K. must formally declare its intention to separate from the EU in a process known as Article 50. Once Article 50 is declared, the country will have two years to negotiate the terms of withdrawal. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will not issue the Article 50 notice and resigned, effective in October. So his successor—who is not yet elected—would be the one to do so.

The U.K. has been a member of the EU since 1973, and so many laws—including those for employment, competition, trading and the environment—derive from EU regulations and laws. The British Parliament would have to decide whether to retain those laws or replace them entirely.

“No one has paid much attention to the source of law before,” Bankes said. “But it’s inconceivable that Parliament would be able to remove EU at a stroke. After all, by and large, the concern is the source of the law rather than the content of the law.”

He added that it is widely expected that once people start looking at the detail of British laws and decide what may need to be rewritten, they would have a transitional arrangement to do so.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.