A year ago today, on 23 June 2016, 33 million people went to the polls in the UK and Gibraltar to decide whether to remain in or leave the European Union. Some 52% voted in favour of leaving and so began an extraordinary and uncertain process.
A year on, it is fair to ask three simple questions:
- What have we learned?
- How has EU law been affected?
- What are the implications for business?
The short answers are: we have learned very little; EU law has hardly changed; and the implications for business remain enormous but the situation is no clearer because there is less clarity on Brexit now than a year ago. Whatever clarity there might have been after the Lancaster House speech of 17 January 2017, there is now less certainty after the “outcome” of the 8 June 2017 General Election.
What are the main learnings over the last year?
It is clear that Brexit is harder than expected. This is not only because it is unprecedented but also because there was no plan on the part of either the EU or the UK to enable any Member State (let alone a long-standing major one) to leave. The much-mentioned Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union contained the barest of details about how notice of an intention to leave could be served, how matters would be negotiated and a possible (but not binding) timeline but little else. The Brexiteers were right when they said that the EU affected so much of the UK’s life and laws that it is now clear that dismantling the EU’s influence will be a Herculean task. No one under the age of 50 has any real sense of life and law in the UK without the EU. Equally, Ireland and Irish business has never been out of step with the UK in terms of having different EU legal rules.
There was considerable discussion in the run-up to the referendum and in its immediate aftermath about using the Norwegian, Swiss, Canadian and other models to establish a new relationship between the EU and the UK. It has become clear that those pre-existing models did not, and could not, work for the post-Brexit UK-EU arrangement. They were designed for States which were never in the EU and therefore could not cope with the un-doing of 40-year old legal ties. A new tailor-made EU-UK model is needed and no one has the blueprint.
The run-up to triggering Article 50 was big news but it was a distraction and has already been largely forgotten. From the immediate aftermath of the referendum through the Conservative Party Annual Conference in Birmingham to the actual “triggering” of Article 50 on 29 March last, there was enormous attention and focus on the triggering of Article 50 as if it was going to make a big change. However, it did little other than start the clock and serve formal notice of the fact that the UK intended leaving the EU. A few months of that limited time was spent on the UK General Election which proved a further distraction.
Compliments of the A&L Goodbody Brexit Team – the firm is a member of the EACCNY.