On Thursday 23rd June the United Kingdom will vote in a referendum on the question of whether they want to remain in the European Union, or leave and regain those elements of its sovereignty which it has, as a member, conceded to Brussels.
The public debate between the Remain and Leave camps has so far generated rather more heat than light. Indeed, the prospect of a member of Britain’s economic stature leaving the quasi-federal organisation to which it has belonged for four decades is so momentous that predicting exactly how it would play out is probably impossible. The result, therefore, is likely to be the result of emotional decisions by the electorate, based on the biggest possible picture of Britain’s future prospects.
We’re being asked a great deal for our view on the effect this issue is having, and is likely to have on the market for Australian lawyers in Britain. The truthful answer, certainly as to the details, is “we don’t know”. But we can make some reasonable observations about likely outcomes, and this article attempts to look at that big picture and identify and discuss the various scenarios.
Big milestones like this, with national and international ramifications, always tend to have employers sitting on their hands until the outcome is known. A good example is last year’s UK General Election, when hiring declined in the run-up, only to be followed, after the Conservatives secured an overall majority, by a burst of hiring as the pent-up demand was released.
There is some evidence of this phenomenon taking place in respect of the EU Referendum, (although vacancies are still coming through at a gratifying rate). Whatever the outcome of the referendum, we can reasonably expect an upsurge in demand in its aftermath.
But beyond this simple, “milestone” phenomenon, what might we expect from the two possible outcomes?
The Remain camp contends that if it succeeds Britain will be back to Business As Usual. To the extent that that may be the case, we would expect the rebound effect described above.
Above and beyond that temporary effect, however, it is fanciful to talk of “Business as Usual” in the EU. It is an organisation dedicated, in its own words, to “Ever closer union”, implying a state of constant change, regardless of what one thinks of the direction of that change. It is also suffering a continuing economic crisis centred on, but not confined to the finances of Greece. And it has an acute refugee crisis and associated terrorism problem to which it seems to have no effective response.
A number of existing exceptions to the terms of UK membership, and its retention of its own currency, augur well for Britain’s interests in these matters, but as an EU member it cannot escape their influence altogether, nor the legal wrangling that arises from the operation of the British exceptions. These issues are likely, in the medium to long term, to generate abundant legal activity. Whether or not they are good for Europe or for Britain, they may be good for lawyers. There is certainly no reason to believe that a Remain vote would reduce the demand for legal talent in London.
If Britain votes to leave, its Constitution will be navigating uncharted waters. Notwithstanding all the sabre-rattling, the remaining members of the EU will have strong reasons to see that transactions of mutual advantage such as trade, policing and immigration control continue to operate, so far as possible, undisturbed. This is likely to be a rich source of legal work, since the UK will have an immediate need to convert into domestic legislation large bodies of law which currently reside in Brussels.
Whether or not the kinds of legal work discussed here fit your skills, any increased demand for them is likely to be of benefit in finding the right legal job for you in the UK.