On March 29, 2017 the UK notified the EU of its intention to leave the European Union. This started a period of negotiation to agree withdrawal terms. If agreement is not reached within two years, the UK will automatically leave the EU unless the other 27 member states agree unanimously to extend the deadline.
After Brexit the UK is set to remain one of the world’s leading dynamic economies and there may be changes to promote and incentivise investment into the UK. For businesses moving to the UK, it is a question of balancing that opportunity with the short-term uncertainties.
At present the UK remains a member of the EU with the rights and obligations that brings.
What terms apply after the UK leaves the EU?
The UK government has made clear that it doesn’t see the country remaining part of the European single market in a formal sense, wanting instead to have the freedom to set its own laws and immigration controls. However, the reality of the modern connected world is that a lot of UK policy will need to fit with that of the EU. The UK will keep a lot of EU law at the outset, but with final appeal to the UK courts and not the EU courts.
Prime Minister Theresa May is on record as saying no deal is better than a bad deal, raising the theoretical possibility of the UK falling back on general World Trade Organisation terms for its trade with EU and other countries.
It is possible that the UK could withdraw the notice to leave and stop the process but the political climate would need to change considerably for that to be contemplated – and it is legally untested and might not be possible.
The assumption is that parties will work hard to achieve agreement, possibly to be implemented over a number of years following the March 2019 negotiation deadline. This may deliver something like the zero tariff arrangement the UK currently has with other EU members.
What should US businesses be doing?
In legal terms nothing has changed yet, so it’s all about planning and assessing options, initially against a “hard Brexit” background whilst the negotiations unfold.
For businesses already in the UK and which have not already engaged in Brexit planning, it is time to identify sensitivities, assess potential impact and plan near term and longer term actions. This can follow up new opportunities as well as risk mitigation.