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Consulting firms weigh in on latest Brexit developments

Feb 03
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Consulting firms weigh in on latest Brexit...

As the debate over how Britain should plan its departure from the European Union continues, some of the UK's biggest consulting firms have shared their views on the significance of Brexit for businesses and the economy.

One of the most recent developments in the Brexit story was also one of the most significant. MPs voted by a majority of 384 to allow the prime minister to begin negotiations to extricate Britain from the European bloc.

However, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is still subject to debate in the Commons and the House of Lords before it can be passed into law.

Theresa May has stated that she wants to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty - signalling the country's official intent to leave the EU - before March 31st this year.

Looking at the potential commercial repercussions of Brexit, EY said it is now "political fact" that the UK plans to separate itself from the single market and the EU external tariff, meaning businesses need to "plan accordingly".

Discussing potential disruption to trade, Mats Persson, head of international trade at the firm, welcomed the government's commitment to reaching transition agreements for particular sectors. This is expected to benefit firms that are heavily reliant on integrated supply chains or exports to Europe.

As the country prepares for the first phase of Brexit negotiations, Mr Persson said it is important not to get caught up in a "catch-22 situation".

"The EU is seeking to settle the divorce settlement and then the new trade arrangement at a later date, whereas the UK is seeking to negotiate both in parallel," he explained. "The biggest risk is that negotiations get stuck early on around this point. Both parties must show pragmatism."

According to KPMG, industry leaders can now safely assume that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March. The firm referred to a ruling from the Supreme Court that the UK government did not have to consult with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which removed a potential obstacle on the route towards Brexit.

One big concern for many businesses is how the EU will respond to the UK's negotiating objectives. Karen Briggs, head of Brexit at KPMG, stressed that EU nations and leaders are "unlikely to give the UK government an easy ride", meaning it's quite possible that companies will be waiting until the autumn for even the most basic details on any potential deal.

"This means UK plc is bracing itself for another period of prolonged uncertainty," Ms Briggs continued. "Businesses will need to hold their nerve and develop contingency plans with optionality rather than being side-tracked by the increasingly confrontational rhetoric we're likely to see on both sides over the remainder of this year."

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Image: Andrew Linscott via iStock

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