As the dust settles following the shock of the “Brexit” vote and as the United Kingdom prepares to negotiate the terms of its departure from the European Union, many stakeholders are already reaching out to the various governments involved in the process to urge a compromise that safeguards their respective interests. While these Brexit-related negotiations appear to be prompting a government relations “surge,” the growing size and sophistication of lobbying and public affairs in the UK and EU reflects a long-term trend. Brussels is now second only to Washington, D.C. in terms of importance to the public affairs profession, and lobbying has increasingly become a key element of corporate strategy in EU member states such as Ireland and the UK.
Firms that are increasing their public affairs functions in London, Dublin, or Brussels – whether in response to the Brexit vote or for other reasons – should be aware that these types of communications may trigger UK, Irish, Scottish and EU lobbying laws and should ensure that they are familiar with the basic features of these regimes.
Of the four regimes, the UK lobbying regime is the most narrowly drawn. It applies only to communications with senior-level government officials made on a client’s behalf by third-party consultant lobbyists and does not cover communications by in-house lobbyists or communications with civil servants and more junior officials.
The Irish law is, in many respects, the broadest in Europe and covers contacts with lower-level public servants, local entities (such as the Dublin City Council) and communications made by a company on its own behalf.
The Scottish regime – adopted this past April – is also broad, but it is subject to a key limitation: only in-person meetings and video conferences are covered. Emails, grassroots efforts and telephone calls fall outside the scope of the Scottish law.
While also very broad, the EU law is technically voluntary, but registration is required to secure meetings with top EU officials. And a consultation process currently under way has proposed significant expansions to the law, including the potential for mandatory registration.
The following are key considerations firms developing a government outreach strategy in the wake of Brexit should bear in mind:
- Know Before You Go: Because many European lobbying laws require registration upon making a single covered contact, companies should consider potential lobbying law coverage before meeting or communicating with potentially-covered officials.
- Prepare for Overlapping Regimes: Companies engaged in Brexit-related lobbying may seek to contact a wide range of public officials from the EU, UK and Ireland. Firms should keep in mind that these contacts may activate multiple lobbying laws. In some cases, such as a contact with an Irish member of the European Parliament, a single contact may even trigger registration under more than one regime.
- Build a Flexible Compliance System: Given the variations between the different lobbying regimes, firms need to develop a system capable of addressing different registration thresholds and reporting obligations.