Braced for a Brexit? Why lawyers should start thinking about a UK-EU divorce now

Braced for a Brexit? Why lawyers should start thinking about a UK-EU divorce now

Every scandal has a 'gate', so now every existential European crisis has to have the obligatory two consonants tacked onto an 'exit':

Britain + exit = Brexit

Marry it to a hashtag and that's social media sorted too. The UK's potential divorce from the EU pruned back to a clunky acronym.

Oh well.

Whatever happens, we are clearly going to be seeing a lot more of our hashtagged friend in the months and years to come, whether we like it or not.

So what should lawyers be doing? More importantly, what should they be telling clients?

Last night, a panel of QCs and leading experts from Monckton Chambers, chaired by Sir Stephen Laws, gathered to discuss the ‘what ifs’ of Brexit.

They stressed that legal advisors can’t afford to ignore this. Increasingly lawyers are going to be asked to advise on the potential implications of a UK exit. Clients will only be fobbed off with platitudes for so long.

So what if we decide to say our ‘Br'au revoirs’ to the EU?

Here are some of the the key ‘takeaways’ from the evening:

  • Dates: When would we leave? In essence, nobody knows. A date hasn’t been set for the referendum so there is nothing to work with at the moment. If polling day is in 2017, then the earliest leaving date is 2019 (ie after the two year long period set out in article 50 of the Treaty on European Union). However, the likelihood of the UK extracting itself from the EU within two years seems to be wildly optimistic. Bank on an exit at some point in the early 2020s?
  • UK breakup: Would a 'yes' vote to leave the EU result in a flurry of further exits and awkward acronyms, this time from the UK itself (a Scoxit, Nexit or even a Wexit)? This is certainly a possibility in the long run.
  • EEA: Would the UK join Norway, Iceland and the 37,000-odd people of Liechtenstein in the EEA? The consensus was that this seems unlikely. For a start, the Norwegians, as ‘top dog’ in this trading block, might not be too keen for the truculent Brits to ‘upset the apple cart’ (to quote one member of the audience). What’s more, the EEA is, simply put, ‘EU-Lite’. There are entrance fees (Norway still has to stump up hundreds of millions of euros annually towards the EU budget) and—and here

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