Preserving access to the single market in legal services is among the reasons why the government urgently needs to set out a vision for trade with the EU following Brexit, MPs say today.
In its first report, the International Trade Committee of the House of Commons backs re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) to preserve continuity in trading relationships.
The report cites evidence from the Law Society on the legal services sector. The Society told the committee that while the EU single market in services is still 'a work in progress', in legal services a single market is already a reality.
Mickael Laurans, the Society's head of international policy and engagement, told the committee that the continuation of the participation of the UK legal services sector in the two EU lawyers' directives and the mutual recognition of qualifications directive was a 'key ask'.
Leaving the single market would render the UK vulnerable to restrictions on legal practice that vary among member states. Some EU jurisdictions operate nationality requirements, Laurans noted, while right of audience before EU courts could be lost by UK lawyers. There might also be problems regarding clients’ ability to benefit from legal professional privilege.
The committee says the government must act quickly to bolster confidence and put the UK in the best position to forge new trading relationships after 2019.
Among its recommendations is for the government to publish a white paper about the possibility of the UK re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
EFTA, whose current members are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, has free trade agreements covering 38 countries, which the UK might stand to benefit from if it were to re-join. According to the report, the committee 'was impressed by the potential benefits of EFTA membership, given the close alignment between the UK’s economy and those of EFTA members, although the government has not proposed this as an option'.