The referendum to be held on 23 June 2016 will offer UK voters the choice of (i) remaining in the EU, or (ii) leaving, a so-called “Brexit”. The referendum is shrouded by uncertainty, both as to the result, and what might happen if a Brexit vote does in fact happen. Businesses themselves have little or no role or influence in the vote, but if a Brexit vote does happen, businesses can and should have a significant role in what comes next. In the period of uncertainty that will inevitably follow a Brexit vote, businesses with clear and reasoned views as to what should happen next will be listened to by the UK Government and Civil Service.
If there is a Brexit vote, the UK will need to have some form of relationship with the remaining EU Member States (the “EU-27“), as well as with third countries. There is currently no legal or political framework for what these relationships will look like, but what is sure is that there will be a significant period of uncertainty. What is likely is that most (if not all) trade agreements to which the EU is a party will cease to benefit the UK, and it is unlikely that new trade agreements will be concluded with all relevant third parties by the time the UK withdraws from the EU. At some point, therefore, the UK will lose (even if only on a temporary basis) the benefit of duty free trade in goods and liberalised access to service markets with the EU-27 and all other major trading partners.