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On the 24th June, the UK voted to leave the EU by a margin of 52% to 48%. In the weeks that followed, newspapers and social media were filled with talk of ‘Bregret’, second referendums and ‘soft’ Brexit deals.
So far, Theresa May has been firm that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ although what that means in real terms remains to be seen. As things stand, it’s business as usual for British companies, with the weak pound boosting exports and foreign shoppers lured by cheaper prices increasing high street profits. Consumer and business confidence appears to be unaffected, but turmoil in the future, particularly when a deal is announced, seems inevitable.
Business owners are currently in a limbo – unable to plan for the future in any great detail. The Brexit deal will have a massive effect on companies, particularly those that rely on imports, exports or recruiting migrant workers.
Simply put, Article 50 is the ‘notice period’ for leaving the EU. Deals can be negotiated, referendums can be won, but until Article 50 is triggered, nothing will actually happen. It’s worth noting that, whilst it’s within British interests to negotiate a deal prior to triggering Article 50, there is no onus on the EU to engage in any such negotiations until the withdrawal process has formally begun. Additionally, processes will need to be in place to replace or redefine EU laws that currently apply to the UK. This process of rewriting laws could take many years. The triggering of Article 50 starts a two year process, meaning once the formal process of withdrawal has begun,the UK will be working against the clock to secure a strong deal. When process comes to a close, the UK will leave the EU, regardless of the strength of the deal reached.
The short answer is, we don’t know. Initially, many were under the impression that a vote to leave the EU would result in an almost instantaneous triggering of the withdrawal process, however that has not happened. That said, the President of the European Council recently told Theresa May that he would like to see the process started ‘as soon as possible’. In July, the high court was told that Article 50 will not be triggered this year, but indications have been given that it could be raised in early 2017. Peter McLoughlin, the Conservative Party chairman, has stated that Article 50 will be triggered before the next general election.
Whilst the government has so far been firm in their insistence that Brexit will happen, there is still skepticism from some who believe that a future change in public opinion, perhaps due to a weak deal from the EU or a downturn in the economy, could provide the basis for a second referendum. The relatively narrow margin of the win has intensified this debate, with remain voters arguing that the leave campaign misled the public on certain campaign promises.
So, assuming Article 50 is triggered, can we then change our minds? According to the lawyer who wrote the process, yes we can.
Jean Claude Piris, who drafted Article 50, told Sky News:
‘My opinion is that there is no legal provision in Article 50 providing that when you give your intention you cannot change your intention, so I think it’s possible legally’
The only certainty about Brexit is that there is no certainty. So what are businesses to do? The businesses that succeed over the coming decades will be those that can adapt quickly to changing market environments and regulations. With that in mind, business plans need to be agile – to ensure that you can cope with best and worst case scenarios. Keep an eye out on our blog for our upcoming guide to ‘Brexit Business Plans’.
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