Brexit warning amid fears for practice rights for UK lawyers in EU


One of Britain's most senior lawyers has sounded the alarm bell over Brexit and urged the Government to secure EU practice rights for English solicitors following separation from the bloc.

Robert Bourns, president of the Law Society, also told the Press Association he fears for English and Welsh law firms that do not have an EU presence and the longer term future of the £25.7 billion sector, which employs 380,000 people.

"We are very concerned about the ability of our solicitors to practise in Europe post-Brexit and we would want acquired rights to continue afterwards.

"In the short term, we are still part of the EU and are doing business across the globe, and there is lots of work for the sector giving legal advice on Brexit.

"But longer term, we need to avoid uncertainty."

He called on those negotiating Britain's divorce to "apply their minds to securing practice rights", and his comments come as English and Welsh lawyers continue to flock to Ireland to enable them to work in the EU.

While much of the City has been fretting over the loss of passporting rights and an exodus of large international banks and jobs, Mr Bourns also raised the prospect of similar moves for City based law firms.

He said: "I am concerned for the long term position of firms that have not got an EU business.

"If I were a City law firm considering my contingency plan, then restructuring my business to become an EU firm would be something that I'd be looking at.

"But it would require a significant degree of restructuring."

The Law Society is calling on the Government to ensure mutual recognition in the sector between Britain and the EU is maintained.

"We've been actively engaging with the Government to inform them of the importance and value of the legal sector, but we are concerned.

"One of the bonuses to come out of Brexit is that the Government is listening, it is beginning to understand the importance of practice rights for our members.

The law chief also pointed to the fact that English and Welsh law is favoured by global businesses for trade and dispute resolution, which is unaffected by Brexit.

"We are in a competitive place, but there is a long term efficiency in using English law, and you can't replicate the legal infrastructure and our judiciary, which are second to none, this is unaffected by Brexit.

"But the Government must continue to promote the use of the jurisdiction", Mr Bourns added.