Doing Business After Brexit

Jane Lambert with Helen Tse
Photo Gita Mistry

Jane Lambert

Having contributed the chapter on intellectual property and data protection to Helen Tse's Doing Business After Brexit, I attended the SME Club's book launch in Manchester last Wednesday.

The event took place at the offices of Deloitte in Hardman Street. Although it was an SME Club event there seemed to be far more bankers, chartered accountants, solicitors and other professionals than entrepreneurs or indeed any other kind of small business owner in the audience. I was accompanied by one of my clients from across the Pennines who is a business owner. Over lunch, she and I met a young woman with an interesting business in the media. And, of course, there was Helen herself with very wide business as well as legal experience. But a lot of other guests seemed to work for accountancy practices or law firms.

The programme consisted of four short presentations followed by lunch. Helen's was by far the most interesting and useful.

She considered the etymology of the word "Brexit" and what it could mean in practice.

Using an infographic she showed the relationships of various countries with the EU. In the central box lay the flags of countries such as the UK which are full members.  In a larger box that surrounded the central box lay the flags of the EFTA states that were members of the single market but not the EU. Surrounding that box was one containing the flag of Switzerland which was in the customs union but not the single market. That box was surrounded by another with the flags of states such as Canada that enjoyed free trade agreements with the EU. Finally, there was a box containing the flags of countries like China and the USA that were members of the World Trade Organization but had not other trade agreement with the EU.

A plurality of British voters had indicated that they did not wish the country to be in the central box but there seemed to be no clear consensus as to which box they wanted us to enter.

Helen explained that Brexit was not without cost.  Jobs were already threatened in the City of London as financial institutions had announced their intention to move some of their activities to Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin. She spoke of the difficulties facing some of her clients such as a Northern Irish farmer who exported produce to the Republic of Ireland and a firm that dealt in plastic bags whose long-term orders were supplied from South East Asia but who relied on suppliers in Spain for any short-term business.

In some cases, alternative suppliers and markets in the UK could be found.  For transactions that could be undermined by tariff increases or customs delays, Helen's law firm had drafted a contract term that she called a "Brexit clause" as existing force majeure or frustration clauses might not apply.

I applaud Helen's attitude.  Whether you think Brexit is a good thing or a bad thing it will involve change and change often brings opportunity. As the recent economic downturn showed, bears can make money on a falling market just as bulls do on a rising one. In order to formulate options, businesses need good facts and reasoned argument. That is what I aim to provide in NIPC Brexit.

Anyone who wishes to discuss this article or the legal or business consequences of Brexit is welcome to call during office hours on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.