The Government’s Brexit White Paper – What Does it Mean?

Following pressure from sections of Parliament and the public, Theresa May’s government has published a 77-page white paper document to set out a strategy for leaving the EU. But what does it add to what we already know?

The UK200Group is the UK’s leading membership association of independent chartered accountancy and law firms across the UK, whose firms act for a total of around 150,000 SME clients. As trusted business advisers, the UK200Group’s members are well-placed to comment on what the white paper really means for the business community.

Philip Partington, Senior Solicitor at UK200Group member law firm Virtuoso Legal, said,

“It is promising that the Government’s first ‘principle’ remains ‘certainty’ and ‘clarity’ for business, something the UK200Group has been seeking from Government since before the referendum. Whether or not this is how business feels is another issue.

“Slightly more troubling, for a number of reasons, is that the UK is now almost certainly about to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. While this aim will delight many, it may well (depending upon the outcome of the future negotiations with the EU) have a significant effect upon the ability of UK businesses to easily stop, on a European wide basis, importers (from countries such as China) bringing into Europe (which will remain those businesses’ main market) counterfeit products and hampering their abilities to compete. Hopefully, the Government’s reference to seeking to ‘set up separate resolution mechanisms for things like trade disputes’ will cover such instances, but that remains to be seen.”

Philip Ball, Solicitor at UK200Group member law firm Myerson, said,

“Following publication of the White Paper on the UK’s exit from and continuing partnership with the European Union, we welcome the Government’s commitment to free trade and to ensuring legal certainty and a smooth transition to the new partnership.

“We remain interested to see how potentially conflicting aims expressed in the White Paper, such as taking control of our own laws versus the aim of the freest trade possible with the EU, will be resolved but we hope that the Government will ensure the best possible deal for the UK economy within the short timescales required by the process.”

Jonathan Franks, Principal at UK200Group accountancy member Hillier Hopkins, said,

“The Government’s Brexit Paper, published yesterday, was hardly earth-shattering. There are 76 pages of words telling us pretty much what we already know. Identifying its twelve principles for negotiation, and the strength of the UK’s bargaining position, the Paper could have been written at any time in the last seven months. While it told us nothing new, the Paper was at least upbeat and positive, if light on strategy.

“Despite that criticism, I will try to be positive too: SMEs might just take comfort that Government does at least have some idea of the issues that need to be dealt with, and it wishes to respond (albeit in a rather lame manner) to some of the fears of SMEs. Whether it has the ability to do so, though, is a different matter.

“What SME’s need is a plan, so that they can plan. We would ideally like certainty, but every SME knows there are few certainties; risk is in the DNA of every SME. We can cope with risk if we at least have a plan. The Paper is more a statement of aspiration than a plan, and all it truly says is that we will try to get the best deal we can in every aspect of our relations with the EU, with a view to getting all we want without giving up anything we like. So what’s new?”

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