Theresa May makes Brexit speech, the legal profession reacts

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By Katie King on

General dissatisfaction from pro-Remain profession, but some see glimmers of hope


Lawyers have had a lot to say overnight about Theresa May’s revelation that the United Kingdom “cannot possibly” remain within the European single market.

Spectators have been keen to find out whether the government will push for internal market membership in its Brexit negotiations, and now the PM has spilled the beans. Though she promised to try to secure the “freest possible trade” with other European Union countries in a speech yesterday, she ultimately advocated for the UK to withdraw from the single market.


Cue lawyer reaction, the first wave of which came from the legal Twitterati.

The profession tends to be very pro-EU, so May’s insistence on a hard Brexit prompted some despair. Take University of East Anglia law lecturer Paul Bernal, who thought a facepalm was a particularly appropriate response:

While Northumbria University professor Chris Ashford put out this tweet:

Other less than complimentary reactions came from solicitor-advocate David Burrows, who described the PM’s talk as “nasty isolationist stuff”. Head of Durham Law School Thom Brooks suggested the government still has “no plan”, while barrister Matt Stanbury went for:

Some commenters, however, were at least pleased to have a vaguely clearer understanding of the government’s plan. Media lawyer and legal commentator David Allen Green tweeted:

Later on in the day, law firms began to issue their official reactions to May’s revelations.

Over at Bird & Bird, for example, senior associate Jonathan Goldsworthy urged businesses to “begin preparing” for Brexit. He said:

[C]ompanies with employees working in the UK on EU passports need to begin preparing for the fact that EU nationals will no longer have an unfettered right to live and work in the UK (and vice versa for British nationals abroad). Until the exact details of the government’s plan have been determined, these companies should give some thought to contingency plans, for example, conducting audits of who this might affect and seeking to crystallise employees’ rights of residency through permanent residency and/or citizenship applications.

Hogan Lovells partner Charles Brasted said “today was the day when the PM had to face up to the implications of what has already been said”. Brasted feels the EU is “likely” to view May’s desire for a bespoke deal as “precisely the cherry picking that [it has] warned against”. He also said:

Every one of the aspirations expressed by the UK Government today will demand exceptional political skill to negotiate and will be complex to implement legally and commercially. The objectives are now clear — the path towards them is uncharted.


The chairman of the bar, Andrew Langdon QC, offered a seemingly more positive line. He used May’s speech as a springboard to urge government to secure “the greatest possible market access for… the legal services sector”, a sentiment echoed by the Law Society in a report it published earlier this week on its Brexit fears. Langdon said the speech provided “some much needed clarity” on the government’s position, and said the Bar Council supports May’s “welcome reassurance that the UK will remain open to international talent”.

So, a mixed bag of reactions. Expect far more when the Supreme Court’s Brexit judgment is handed down, due next week.

Watch Theresa May’s speech in full below:

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