Brexit

Six months to go: Brexit and legal services

With formal confirmation that the transitional period will not be extended under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, it now appears very likely that the future relationship with the EU will commence from the 1 January 2021.

This decision immediately preceded the meeting between prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen on the 15 June. Both sides agreed to intensify talks on the future agreement with new rounds of negotiation now due to take place over the summer.

The hope on both sides is that renewed impetus will help bridge the gap which currently exists, and lead to an agreement which can be ratified and put into place by the end of the year.

Supporting you to prepare for the 31 December 2020

Against this backdrop, we’ve been advising members that they must prepare for the significant changes which will kick in from the start of next year, both within their own businesses and for clients.

Such action must reflect the state of the negotiations, where it appears that even if an agreement is reached, the provisions for UK services providers will be limited.

We continue to review and update our research on the regulation for solicitors practising and law firms operating in each of the 31 EU/EFTA jurisdictions to further support members in these preparations. For guidance on the regulation in specific EU/EFTA jurisdictions, email international@lawsociety.org.uk.

As the outcome of the negotiations looks clearer, we’ll be updating our guidance in key practice areas which will sit alongside a series of webinars, podcasts and events providing insights and advice on several cross cutting themes.

We continue to work with bars and law societies across the EU and EFTA states in an effort to further advise and support members as we enter the future relationship.

Despite the COVID-19 related disruption, we’ve continued to hold virtual bilateral meetings with our counterparts in EU member states, to raise concerns around our members’ practising rights post-Brexit, seek opportunities to work together to address them and continue to update its guidance.

What do we want from the negotiations

In the meantime, the Law Society in London and Brussels is continuing to call on negotiators from both sides to work towards a deal. While the draft legal texts published by both sides demonstrated a different approach to the negotiations, there are plenty of examples of shared aims or instances where the end goal is mirrored by both EU and UK.

This can be seen for example in the mutual desire to address recognition of professional qualifications, where an agreement could help ensure that the millions of individuals who have achieved professional qualifications from both EU and UK institutions are able to rely on and fully utilise them.

Similarly, there’s a clear ambition from both sides to ensure a level of criminal and security co-operation to help fight crime in various fields, including money laundering and terrorist financing. These mutual aims must be built upon, with a reduction in the level of disruption facing businesses and consumers the overarching objective.

Despite the tight timeframes, we further encourage both sides, and especially the UK government, to remain ambitious and deliver on objectives announced earlier in the year and in 2019.

On behalf of legal services, it’s critical to lock in for UK lawyers the right to advise clients at the very least on home law and public and private international law. This right must be supplemented through provisions on mobility (including the right to short-term business visitor visas or visas for the purpose of fulfilling contractual services) and the ability to bid for public procurement contracts in the EU.

In parallel to rights at the individual level, we’re keen to see progress in the next rounds of negotiations on securing agreement to enable UK lawyers to set up a law firm under host or home state rules, and to enable UK lawyers to either be employed by local lawyers or form partnerships with local lawyers on an equal footing.

In securing the above, we’re very aware it will be critical that national reservations by member state governments do not negate or undermine what has been achieved by the two negotiating teams. Many of the ambitious provisions for services in the CETA framework were ultimately nulled or capped by such restrictions.

Alongside the main negotiations on a future agreement, we’re lobbying for a data adequacy decision to allow the free flow of data between the UK and EU, and for the UK’s application to the Lugano Convention on civil and commercial judicial cooperation and enforcement of judgments to be agreed to.

We’ve long been calling for the UK to accede to the Lugano Convention as UK and EU trade will continue and it’s critical that where disputes arise those affected are able to seek redress in a way which is neither overly complex or prohibitively costly. We continue to stress the importance of the Lugano Convention to EU stakeholders and the role support it provides for consumers and small businesses.

For further information, see our guidance on Brexit and advice for the transitional period. If you have questions on our Brexit work or how we can support you ahead of 31 December, email Brexit@lawsociety.org.uk.