If you relied on the bookmakers and recent polls, you may have woken up this morning to a surprise because the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. Most people on this side of the pond have at least some awareness of the Brexit vote, but are unsure what it means for today and the future. The good news is they are not alone. With the exception of the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and lower economic markets across the world, there are few immediate impacts; however, the future could bring changes to all areas of the U.K.
At this time it is unclear exactly when and how the U.K. will exit and what the relationship will be with the EU. The primary method for the U.K. to withdraw from the EU is for the U.K. to give formal notice to the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. After notice is given, the EU and the U.K. enter into negotiations to determine exactly how the U.K. leaves and to determine how to structure their relationship going forward. Various relationships have been discussed including those similar to the relationships Norway, Turkey and Sweden have with the EU. All of those relationships have advantages and disadvantages that the U.K. and the EU will have to negotiate.
Under Article 50 the negotiations can last two years or longer if extended, and the U.K. has not given notice yet. Prime Minister Cameron stated that he will not give notice and will leave the notice for the next Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister should be chosen and in place by October of this year. So we can expect the clock on the negotiations to start sometime this fall or winter.
One of the leading candidates to replace Mr. Cameron is former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was instrumental in leading the campaign to leave the EU. Other leading candidates include Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May. Whoever leads the U.K. into this new frontier will have to negotiate the Brexit while simultaneously looking at the U.K.’s place in the world. Currently the U.K. is partner to numerous trade agreements as part of the EU, but it may have to negotiate trade agreements on its own if it cannot arrange to retain these benefits. Depending on these results, tariffs regarding the U.K. may be dramatically changed. U.K. trade, labor, intellectual property, immigration, tax, energy and corporate laws are all influenced by the EU and may all be impacted by the Brexit.
Counsel should now be reviewing current contracts for potential impacts of the Brexit, and any negotiations should take into account the uncertain nature of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU and the world. For example, some concerns include provisions related to external funding sources that may create a default, other provisions that may create a default or termination, and U.K. contracts that may reference EU law.