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‘A fundamental change’: Bar Council sets out legal impact of Brexit in neutral report

The Bar Council has published an analysis of the impacts of Brexit in an attempt to provide a neutral analysis of the debate. Leaving the European Union would be ‘extremely complex’ with the need to introduce new rules if Britain is to remain in the European Single Market, according to the report.

The report, ‘EU Referendum: Position of the Bar’ withdrawal from the EU would not necessarily address its concerns, because of the extent to which the EU law would still impact on UK regulations. The authors of the report, who are on the Bar Council’s EU Law Committee, add the UK would have to mirror many EU rules in order to maintain a trading relationship.

The authors say that although the UK remaining in the EU is not essential to the legal service market, the growth of the international and European trade has led to an increase in demand for legal services and the UK’s lion’s share of the European legal market.

The report states: ‘Were the UK to leave the EU, and if access to the single market meant having to comply with a body of EU rules, it is easy to envisage a context in which UK professionals could rapidly be placed at a disadvantage if the UK had no say in framing future changes.’

However, it adds Brexit would almost certainly produce a ‘bulge’ of work as lawyers advise on the structuring of the withdrawal and draw up new relationships for businesses.

Peter Smith, a barrister at Carter-Ruck and founding member of Lawyers for Britain, told Legal Business sovereignty was central to the leave argument: ‘The fundamental principle of law and the rule of law is sovereignty. We want to see that power returned to parliament.

‘I’m very sceptical when lawyers say there are good reasons inherent to themselves for staying. We say the law as a tool can be used for Brexit and for negotiating new trade treaties around the world.’

Smith added that many lawyers were keen to remain due to the perceived benefits to business: ‘Many are commercial lawyers, they are corporate or M&A, and they feel that less business would be done here if we were outside the European Union. They think that instability means less business for them.

Hugh Mercer QC of Essex Court Chambers, who co-authored the report, said: ‘What we tried to do in this report is to look at informing the citizen of what is likely to happen. There are going to be a lot of challenges. In the short and medium term there will be a lot of work for those involved in the regulatory side.

‘It would be a fundamental change. The report aims to set out the facts. In order so that people can be informed we have to set out what is involved.’

He added that the power of the EU was still very important for the economy and legal services: ‘It is easy to suggest that we just cut a trade deal with other countries in the world. But the bargaining power that the EU has is very important.’

Chairman of the Bar Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said: ‘There is a lot of political wrangling over the referendum on EU membership. This report, however, provides a neutral legal and constitutional analysis of the various options.

‘We keep hearing that the electorate want facts, not fiction, about Brexit. The Bar is well-placed to provide facts and this paper aims to provide a non-partisan view of the possible outcomes.’

The full report can be read here.