Since the referendum last year, I have been slightly surprised by how few people have asked me what will happen when we Brexit from Europe. I don’t take any offence at this; to be honest I am quite relieved. I don’t have a crystal ball. None of us do. I think most people have now realised that the answer is going to be different for everyone. I’ll give you some examples.
A few weeks ago, the chairman of a manufacturing company called me to discuss a “few problems” they were having. The problems, it emerged, were not being caused by a downturn in business – quite the contrary. The issues had arisen because the weaker pound had led to such a spike in orders from purchasers across the globe that the company could easily double its budgeted annual turnover overnight. The problem was certainly not one of over-capacity. They were more concerned about how they would cope with the increase in business. For years the highly skilled workforce it had drawn upon had been slowly depleting due to intense overseas competition. Recruitment was going to be a difficult problem to overcome.
On another recent occasion a client told me how profit margins have become increasingly tight because of the steadily increasing costs of raw materials coming from within the EU.
I have heard tales of woe from agricultural producers who are now struggling to find the army of casual workers necessary to pick their summer fruits, while suppliers of equipment to the same industry have noticed a buoyant market due to an increased demand for UK produce by retailers.
In short, there are very few consistent indicators to indicate how Brexit will impact on us. On a UK-wide scale trends may be identifiable and measurable in various ways, but finding consistency at a local and personal level is much more difficult. I am sure we have all heard the “I told you so” sound bites from those who said the ceiling wouldn’t come crashing down on our heads, and in fairness it didn’t. But the reasons why it didn’t may well differ. For the lives of individuals most directly affected things are rarely simple.
So, where do we go from here? I suppose we should start with what we have been told, which is that “Brexit means Brexit.” Yes, of course it does. Isn’t that obvious? Well… to my mind the actual meaning of that phrase wasn’t quite so clear until the text of the Article 50 letter was released following its delivery on 29 March. In essence we have told Europe that we’re not seeking membership of a single market. We have pulled our stumps on that one, accepting (for now at least) that the four freedoms are indivisible and we won’t be given the opportunity to cherry-pick those aspects of our membership we like best. We are out of the single market, or at least we will be in two years’ time.
The difficulty with this sort of letter, which dramatically turns the course of history and will forever be scrutinised by dusty historians and pompous lawyers, (no doubt out of its proper context, because the actual drafting process will be hidden under layers of official secrecy for years to come) is that when you finally read them you get an overwhelming feeling of anticlimax. If you’re not careful this can lead to another thought: “Is that really the best letter they could write? I could do better than that!”
Allow me to explain. Letters drafted by committee have a tendency to leave a lack of fulfilment behind them. Take, for example, the repeated references to “deep and special” in the Article 50 letter. I counted at least seven and there’s probably more than that. If I saw that many repeat references in a letter from my professional life, I would lay odds on the fact that everyone involved in the drafting had been instructed (or even dared) to sneak a mention somewhere into the text. Many more phrases are similarly overused: “fair and orderly,” “strong and prosperous,” “practical and appropriate,” “continuity and certainty” – I can almost visualise the tortuous drafting sessions that helped create these contrivances. Let’s be frank: they serve no real purpose other than to extend what could have been a simple one-liner giving notice to quit.
So does the Article 50 letter guide us at all? Yes, in some ways it does. As I have said, we have ruled ourselves out of a deal involving membership of a single market. What it also says, quite significantly, is that when we leave the EU we are going to pass a law which adopts all existing EU law into UK law.
They slipped that one in on the quiet!
Someone has taken a look at the EU and UK statute books, scratched their heads and decided that in the two years available to us we don’t have a chance in hell of sifting through each and every bit of EU law that has been passed over the years. It’s impossible. There simply aren’t enough civil servants around to do it.
What will happen instead is that the UK will adopt all EU legislation that presently affects its legal system. The main examples of this come in the form of EU Regulations, which do not require a corresponding UK law to be implemented by Parliament. They are binding on us without further input and will now continue to be so even after Brexit. The Article 50 proposal does away with all wishful thinking that once we Brexit everything we haven’t already adopted into national will law simply fall away. No, sir – some clever spark in the civil service is going to draft a super clause which will bring it back home for us all to enjoy for years yet to come. The idea, the Article 50 letter suggests, is to create certainty for UK citizens. The idea, I would suggest, is not something that our respected French cousins would even entertain as a possibility if they were in our shoes.
I expect the enforcement of these EU derived laws will become the remit of our national courts, as the European Courts will cease to have jurisdiction over us (eventually).
The other important thing to consider is the way that the Article 50 letter places national security (and law enforcement across the EU) on the agenda as a particular topic of discussion over the next two years. I believe many of us will take this to mean that gun laws – gun ownership, possession and control – will remain a priority on the Home Office’s agenda. We have already seen the legislative action taken by the EU in response to terrorist incidents involving so-called “reactivated” weapons, and the UK legislative agenda seems likely to include the passing of EU laws that re-categorise a considerable number of weapons into Section 5 by introducing reductions to magazine capacities and so forth. These changes do not show any sign of being delayed or stopped by Brexit. On the contrary, there appears to be a quiet determination to push on with them.
In any event, we already have one of the world’s most sophisticated (and let’s not forget strictest) set of gun laws. I fully expect there will be no dramatic changes – unless of course there are aspects of your personal life, gun-related trade, or business that interface with the single market, especially the movement of goods. Rest assured, it isn’t going to become impossible. However, things are going to change and possibly it will become more complex and bureaucratic to move goods around Europe when the border controls are handed back to the UK. That said, it should not become any more difficult than moving goods to and from a non-EU country. I say that with a careful proviso: if we make a complete hash of Brexit, our neighbours may decide to impose something quite punitive on us in return. On that thought, I shall remain calm, close my eyes, breathe slowly and repeat the Article 50 mantra: “Deep and special… Deep and special.”
Stuart Farr is a solicitor and Partner of Clarke Willmott LLP and for many years has had a passion for shooting and the industry that surrounds it. He has advised on many gun-related issues and welcomes contact from readers.