As confirmed in the Queen's Speech, there will be a Referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union (EU) by the end of 2017. Although the circumstances of such a referendum are unclear, such as the wording of the referendum question itself, if we vote to leave the EU, what will be the consequences for UK businesses? Will there be barriers to trade?
A key point to note from the outset is that this would depend very much on what the EU membership would be replaced with. For example, would the UK have no formal link with the EU, or would we join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and (like most EFTA countries) the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement with the EU or would we enter into some other free trade agreement with the EU?
What we do know is that much of the UK's law is comprised of directly effective EU law, or UK law implementing EU Directives or supplementing directly effective EU law. If these laws were to be discontinued, it would leave huge gaps in our legislative framework and, at least initially, transitional arrangements would be needed.
A UK exit from the EU would result in a loss of 43 years of interconnection of UK law with EU law and structures. It is likely that, in order to avoid a huge gap in laws in the UK, the UK Government and devolved administrations would need to continue to keep in effect the large part of EU law that impacts the UK by converting it into UK law or the law of the separate UK jurisdictions. Affected law ranges from the rules on insolvency jurisdiction (currently the EU Insolvency Regulation) to vast swathes of EU health and safety, product liability, consumer protection and employment law applicable in the UK.