What does the Irish border issue mean for law firms?

What does the Irish border issue mean for law firms?


Reporting by Simran Malhi

Theresa May’s visit to Northern Ireland last week came after she gave a legal guarantee that there will be no customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom after Brexit. The Prime Minister declared at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, “the economic and constitutional dislocation of a formal third customs border within our own country is something that I will never accept”, adding that it was now time “for the EU to respond”.

In response, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, told reporters at a press conference at the end of the European council summit: “We want to use the positive momentum in the negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland”. Achieving this result would reduce the risks and administrative burden for any commercial law firm involved in cross border trade.

Earlier this year, Northern Ireland’s Department of Economy stated, “Northern Ireland relies heavily on moving and receiving goods through ports in Ireland for its trade with Great Britain”. Therefore, a no-deal would damage Ireland almost as much as it would the UK because International firms and law firm networks commonly share a cross-border appeal.

Following the publication of the Governments White Paper earlier this month, the Chequers agreement set out the relationship the UK wants with the EU post Brexit. It stated the UK wanted to ensure harmonisation with the EU on goods and a frictionless trade at the border. Sian Edmunds, from Burges Salmon LLP law firm, told KCW Today if the UK were able to tackle the issue of a border between ROI and Northern Ireland, “it would help to keep delays in transportation and delivery down and to keep administration, and cost to a minimum”.

On reducing the complications of this decision, Edmunds commented, “registering as an Authorised Economic Operator is probably a sensible thing to do to minimise the risk to businesses of having to deal with a harder border”. A business occupying an AEO status is internationally recognisable indicating its role in the international supply chain is secure, and that your customs controls and procedures and efficient and compliant. In practice it gives quicker access for customs authorisations and reductions or waives of comprehensive guarantees.

Edmunds concluded: “Whether the border is soft or hard isn’t the issue but the worry for law firms lies in the question of what extent the EU and UK regulatory regimes will or won’t work alongside each other and the extent to which there will be mutual recognition of respective regimes”.

Moving forward, law firms such as Burges Salmon and others alike are respectively observant to the possibility of changes in coming future and working to adapt – to ensure that they will be able to provide the same level of service internationally to their cliental from all jurisdictions.

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