Theresa May was preparing to convene her warring cabinet at Chequers for crucial talks on a final Brexit strategy as the Gazette went to press. Somewhere in her red boxes sits a wishlist of requirements that professional services firms say are vital to preserving the £188bn sector in any Brexit deal.
It is both telling and ominous that the 42 signatories to this missive felt compelled to reiterate yet again what is at stake. We have known for some time, after all.
Lawyers are exasperated that debate – and we do not seem to have got much further than debate, do we? – continues to centre on the implications of Brexit for the free movement of goods, when services make up over 80% of the economy.
It is perhaps instructive to look beyond the diplomatic language for a moment and ‘follow the money’, as journalists are wont to do. Last week’s letter to the PM was on its way to number 10 as Clifford Chance global managing partner Matthew Layton hailed a record trading year for the magic circle firm. In 2017/18 PEP soared 16% to an astonishing £1.6m.
The global financial crisis is a very long time ago in the City which, as the results season gets going in earnest, appears set for a stellar year.
Layton, it will surprise no one to learn, is among May’s 42 correspondents. So are three of his peers at other magic circle firms. Yet he and they are still stuck at the stage of gamely seeking to educate ministers and officials about the benefits of mutual market access for temporary and indeed permanent provision of services. Without this, solicitors and law firms will have to fall back on no fewer than 31 different regulatory systems (EU, European Free Trade Association and Switzerland).
As an act of spectacular self-harm which would hand the initiative to the City’s EU competitors, such a regression could hardly be more egregious.
I, for one, would like to read a leading City law firm’s contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit. If only for its shock value.