Brexit-related legal advice

On 31 December 2020 the UK finally left the EU after an 11-month transition period. This brought to an end several years of uncertainty over the basis on which the UK and EU would part ways, however, there are still many aspects of the new relationship to be worked out. Nonetheless, the UK is no longer part of the single market and customs union, and this has a significant effect on many sectors.

While the changes brought on by Brexit will impact on many areas of business, we have highlighted several key areas in which you may require particular legal assistance to deal with the implications of the new relationship between the UK and the EU. Harper Macleod's specialists can help businesses, organisations and individuals come to terms with the new landscape and its practical and legal implication.

Commercial Contracts

Immigration & People

Import, Export & Tax

IP & Data Privacy

Brand rights post Brexit

The European landscape for the protection of brand rights changed significantly on the UK's exit from the EU. Brand rights holders are recommended to be cognisant of the changes, and ensure that their European brand protection strategies remain fit for purpose.

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A number of key changes to the UK's regulation of the sale of medical devices took effect upon the UK's exit from the EU. These changes have been on the horizon since the arrival of the new EU medical device regulations a number of years ago, and will continue to reshape the regulatory landscape for these products over the next few years.

For those operating in this market it is important to remember and consider the impact of these regulatory changes. For those considering entry into the UK market alongside the EU market, it is important to remember that the UK is now in effect a third country for European purposes – that is, it is a different market to the EU, and the ability to sell onto the EU market may not necessarily bring with it the ability to sell onto the UK market.

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Public Law & Regulation

Timeline to the UK's exit from the European Union (EU)

  • 23 June 2016 – The EU Referendum
The referendum question presented to voters was 'Should the United Kingdom remain a member or leave the European Union?' 17,412,742 voters answered that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. 16,141,241 people voted to remain.
  • June 2017 – Negotiating the Future

Formal negotiations between the EU and the UK on what the future relationship between them should look like began one year after the EU Referendum.

  • 31 January 2020 –Brexit Officially Takes Place

The UK formally left the EU under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement which became law under a newly elected Conservative Government under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. A transitional "Implementation Period" then began.

  • 24 December 2020 – The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is Concluded

More than 4 years, three prime ministers and two general elections after the EU Referendum, on 24 December 2020, the UK and the EU reached a consensus on a Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) which represented a much hoped for deal between the two parties regarding their future relationship.

  • 31 December 2020 – TCA Approved in the UK

A little publicised piece of legislation known as the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 31 December 2020 allowing the TCA to become a fully-fledged international treaty to which all laws in the United Kingdom are subject.

  • 29 April 2021 – TCA Approved by the European Council

From 1 January 2021 the TCA had been operating on a provisional basis until both parties agreed that it should be fully ratified. The European Council gave its final approval on 29 April 2021. A sticking point in the progress of approval was the effectiveness of the Northern Ireland Protocol which forms part of the Withdrawal Agreement. This was the cause of much disagreement in the UK Parliament until the Conservative Party secured a significant majority in the 2019 General Election and managed to resolve the deadlock.  Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland has been granted a different status than the rest of the UK from a customs control perspective. Given the land border it has with an EU Member State (Republic of Ireland) and the vital importance to the Island of Ireland of friction free trade between the North and South it is being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom and effectively remains in the EU Single Market. The Protocol remains a politically charged issue in Northern Ireland and is likely to remain a cause for concern even now that the TCA has come into full effect.

The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The TCA is a comprehensive document. It is 1246 pages long and contains both general principles and minute detail covering a massive range of topics from the headline grabbing deal relating to fishing rights to the rules relating to the origin of component parts of musical instruments for export between the UK and the EU. As the EU remains the UK's biggest trading partner, the TCA is having and will continue to have a profound effect on the lives of people living in both territories.

There are 8 Parts to the TCA, the most substantial one being Part 2 relating to Trade, Transport, Fisheries and Other Arrangements. This Part of the TCA sets out the rules relating to trade in goods and services and, in particular how tariff and quota free trade is regulated. It also covers cooperation in the aviation and road transport industries and social security and visa requirements. This Part also contains the principles relating to access rights to waters for fishing.

There are Dispute Settlement provisions in Part 6 of the TCA which set out procedures for resolving disagreements. Crucially from the point of view of the proponents of Brexit, this Part sets out the limited role for the European Court of Justice in the UK judicial system. There is the potential for either the UK or the EU to suspend the TCA in the event that differences that cannot be swiftly resolved through the dispute resolution procedures. While it is possible this will have the effect of encouraging resolution, it does raise the possibility of significant disruption, particularly from the perspective of tariff and quota free trade. Tensions remain around the Northern Ireland Protocol, COVID-19 vaccines have become a potential cross-border battleground and the EU Commission has indicated that it will block the UK's accession to the Lugano Convention for the international recognition of court orders.

While 24 December 2020 may have been a significant milestone in the negotiations following Brexit, there remain significant challenges and areas of difference between the EU and UK. Harper Macleod's teams of specialists continue to monitor the implications of Brexit for businesses and individuals across a wide range of topics.