This is what I said to my staff on 27 June 2016, following the referendum result:
It’s now clear that very little is clear about what happens after the Brexit vote on Thursday.
The referendum result is, technically, only ‘advisory’ – it’s not binding on Parliament or on the Government. There is no legal or other binding reason why the government has to do anything to implement it. Britain is a Parliamentary democracy, which means that Parliament has to make key decisions, such as deciding to act on the advice provided by the referendum. A majority of the current Parliament are against Brexit and, as the vote in a number of constituencies was for Remain. it’s unlikely that all MPs will feel compelled to implement the overall referendum result or, therefore, that Parliament will rush into a final decision to go ahead. Then there’s Scotland and Northern Ireland, neither of which appear likely to support actually leaving the EU.
In reality, neither of the Leave teams has a clear exit strategy, and we don’t even have in place a team who are capable of negotiating an Exit. We don’t even know what such a team should look like. And, of course, some of the Leave promises are unravelling while a number of the ‘Project Fear’ predictions turn out to have been true. There is even a mass petition to re-run the referendum. It’s not clear how any of this will play out.
Practically, the UK’s legal Exit route is to invoke something called Article 50 – it’s a treaty clause under which a government has to give the EU official, formal notice that it is leaving and this triggers a minimum 2-year negotiating period. The EU treaties, rules and regulations all continue to apply in full throughout the period of negotiations.
Only the UK can invoke Article 50 – and the EU can’t force the UK to do this, or set a deadline by when it has to happen.
And it doesn’t look like the UK government is ready to start that process anytime soon.
First, the Tories have to elect a new leader, who will also be Prime Minister. It looks as though the choice will come down to Boris Johnson or a Stop-Boris Johnson candidate. The eventual choice of leader will reflect the emerging consensus inside the Tory party about how it will respond in what it sees as the UK’s best interest to the Brexit vote, as well as to how it takes advantage of the current chaos in the Labour party.
There may well then be a general election, in an attempt to create a clear Parliamentary majority that supports the emerging Tory view of how to deal with Brexit.
All this may take another 3 – 6 months.
That all means that very little will actually change, in terms of our legal framework and our relationship with the EU until probably, at earliest, October 2018 and, more likely, January 2019. In spite of the Brexit vote, Britain will continue to be a full member of the EU for at least the next 2.5 years.
We’ve got a lot to do in helping our clients in the UK, in the EU and USA, and across the Rest of the World, protect themselves against cyber threats, meet their data compliance obligations, and thrive commercially.
The extended period of economic and political uncertainty, however, and the possibility of an economic recession, will continue weighing on commercial decision-making. That means we will have to be more agile, more imaginative and more aggressive in finding, winning and keeping customers than we have ever been in the past.