News of a £668bn trade and cooperation agreement reached between the UK and the EU was today welcomed with a mixture of delight and disappointment by solicitors’ leaders. In a statement, the Law Society said that, though legal services are included in the deal, 'there is little in the substance at this time to facilitate this vital sector – worth £60bn to the UK economy annually'.
Society president David Greene said he was pleased that what he described as the worst outcome – no deal – has been averted. 'We congratulate the negotiating teams on both sides for ensuring an agreement has been reached with, at least, some elements for legal services.'
However, he said it is important to see this deal as the beginning of a process. 'Legal services are not only hugely valuable to our national economy but also to our global reputation – worth £5bn to exports – and so for us this cannot be the end of the story but the starting point: and we will be working with national governments, bars and law societies across the EU to improve the framework for the international legal practice of non-EU lawyers, for their joint practice with local lawyers and for international legal co-operation for the benefit of all clients,' Greene said.
'We also continue to urge the EU to support the UK’s accession to the Lugano Convention which would allow civil and commercial judgments to be recognised cross-border and allow ordinary citizens and small and medium size businesses to enforce their rights without taking up prohibitively expensive actions in multiple courts.'
The Society is also urging early determination on the adequacy of the UK's data protection regime to ensure that data flows continue between the UK and the EU.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said this afternoon: 'The deal is the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth £668bn in 2019. The deal also guarantees that we are no longer in the lunar pull of the EU, we are not bound by EU rules, there is no role for the European Court of Justice and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved. '
Parliament is to be recalled next week to ratify the free trade agreement before the end of the transition period on 31 December.
One leading legal sector expert, Charles Brasted, co-head of the Brexit taskforce at international firm Hogan Lovells, said: 'There is much detail to study in the new agreement, and more steps before it crystallises into law. One thing that we know will change is how rules are interpreted and applied in the UK, in the context of two separate EU and UK systems. Vast amounts of previously EU-derived law and regulation in the UK will be on a new legal footing from 1 January and potentially open to reinterpretation in its new post-Brexit context.'
Brasted warned that any area of law or regulation previously touched by EU law is potentially affected. 'Businesses and their advisers cannot assume that familiar laws and rules will not become faux amis.'