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Preparing for Brexit: Interview with Patrick Harrison 31/05/2017

With Article 50 now triggered, law firms have started their preparation for the procedures associated with Brexit. Sidley Austin are amongst the frontrunners of this, and their Preparing for Brexit scheme piqued our attention. So, naturally, we went to find out more - by sitting down with Patrick Harrison, a partner specialising in EU and UK competition law at the firm. 

1)    In what ways is the legal sector preparing for Brexit?

Our sense is that different firms with different focuses are taking (or considering) different steps. The preparations of a major international firm like Sidley will inevitably differ from those of a high street firm in a regional town. For our part, we are making sure that we keep up-to-date on developments both in the UK and in the rest of the EU and making sure that we share knowledge among the lawyers who are counselling clients on Brexit-related issues.

2)    How are regulations going to change in the wake of leaving the EU?

The Government has already stated that it will move to pass a so-called “Great Repeal Bill”. The principal effect of this Bill would actually be to adopt existing EU legislation directly into UK law, so, as a starting point, the UK will – in large part – simply adopt all existing EU regulations. In the future, the UK might choose to adjust some of those regulations but the extent to which it considers it has freedom to do so may depend on the terms of any future trade deal the UK agrees with the remaining members of the EU: it will likely remain important for the UK that its post-Brexit laws are such that UK goods, and – critically – UK services, can be sold into the EU with as little impediment as possible. 

3)    What are the different legal implications for a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ Brexit?

A ‘hard’ Brexit – which seems at present to be the option being pursued by the Government – would likely be the more disruptive for the UK’s legal sector, since it entails (in all likelihood) leaving the Single Market and effectively removing the EU Courts from the apex of the UK’s legal system. That would bring about many changes for clients selling goods or services into, or buying goods or services from, the EU.

A ‘soft’ Brexit would likely entail retaining membership (in some capacity) of the Single Market, accepting the primacy of (aspects of) EU law and accepting the jurisdiction of either (or both) of the EU Courts and the EFTA Courts. It would cause less disruption for clients and for the UK’s legal sector but it would likely prevent the UK from doing the deals on trade with non-EU countries that the Government appears to consider one of the main opportunities arising out of a ‘hard’ Brexit.   

4)    How is Sidley Austin shaping up for the changes ahead?

As one of the world’s largest law firms, Sidley is very well-equipped to deal with the consequences of Brexit and to counsel clients on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We are already counselling multiple clients across different sectors on how to adjust their European operations to address Brexit-related complications.

Many of our clients are active in the services sector, where the questions of “passporting” (i.e. using an approval in one Member State to offer services in another Member State without the need for a further approval) and “equivalence” (i.e. a determination by the European Commission that a non-EU country’s regulatory regime is sufficiently similar to the EU’s regime that companies based in that non-EU country can benefit from privileged access to the Single Market) are especially important.

5)    Which areas of law that you work in are going to be most different once Article 50 has been triggered?

The triggering of Article 50 in itself does not have any immediate legal effects of particular relevance, except that it puts a likely date on the UK’s eventual departure from the EU and so concentrates the minds of clients and firms alike. Areas that have had the most significant EU law component are likely to be the most effect by Brexit when it ultimately takes effect, including Financial Services Regulatory, Employment and Competition law.

But if the UK simply adopts the EU rules in those areas under the Great Repeal Bill, there might ultimately be relatively few changes in the near term following Brexit.

6)    How does Sidley Austin’s ‘Preparing for Brexit’ initiative work?

One of the main aims is to pool knowledge about developments in the UK and in the EU and to share information about the kinds of issues clients are facing. That way, we can ensure that all Sidley lawyers counselling clients on Brexit-related issues are up to speed with the latest trends and developments.

7)    What are the initiative’s ultimate aims?

Ultimately, as with everything we do, the aim of the Preparing for Brexit initiative is to ensure that we deliver the very best advice to the firm’s clients, and to ensure that we are as well placed as possible to help those clients navigate any issues they may be facing.

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