This is not a comment on the form that Brexit should take – it’s about how difficult it is to identify all of the issues that could affect businesses as a result. That’s why we’re bringing member companies together to help them work through the process together.
Right now, the UK government needs our input to understand the issues, why they matter and their impact. We have to boil it down to understandable pieces. If we find it difficult to understand, just think how difficult it is for others.
Where there are specific rules for a sector or product it might be fairly easy to work out how they impact on your business. The next level of rules are the broad horizontal frameworks like the services directive which have a wide impact on many activities.
At the top level are the key freedoms, such as the freedom to provide or receive services, which have become so embedded in the legal systems of states in the single market that we’ve largely forgotten the effect they have – until it’s pointed out. The single market was all about giving these freedoms real effect. It was so successful, we forgot that such questions even exist.
But take them away, and the implications are very widespread indeed. Putting them right, through a series of specific agreements may be possible, but where it is, the replacements are often not as good.
A good simple example is the regulation of trades and professions and who can provide a service in a given country. Most countries have rules which restrict these rights and in many cases these were originally based on national criteria – like who can provide legal services. Over time these have been progressively re-written to include professionals qualified in any EU or EEA member state. But if the UK finds itself outside the EEA, these rules suddenly mean that individuals and companies lose these rights. Alternative agreements may be possible to construct but they will take time, and may be less effective.
Trying to spot these issues in isolation is difficult – you need multiple inputs. That’s why the best advice is that companies establish multi-disciplinary groups across all sectors of the business and locations and activities like supply chain, tax, HR and management.
But that’s not enough. You need external input too, from sectoral specialists like your trade associations – and cross-sectoral insights. As a chamber of commerce that’s our strong point. That’s why our own working group is bringing groups of companies together across sectors to discuss themes like the customs union, the movement of labour and barriers to trade in services.
We’re using these sessions to produce examples and cases to help both our member companies, government and other stakeholders, and publishing the findings as we go along.
Reports from these sessions will be published on our website here (http://britishchamber.be/uk-eu-relations)