The government has begun a landmark Supreme Court appeal against a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50, which will decide whether MPs should get a vote on taking Britain out of the European Union.
An unprecedented number of spectators are expected to keep a close eye on this four-day hearing – indeed, two neighbouring court rooms have been opened to allow for video cameras.
In anticipation of the case arriving at the Supreme Court, my firm held a panel discussion on the likely future of the landscape post-Brexit, exploring some of the key post-Brexit business issues and opportunities. It was chaired by Radio 4 ‘Today’ presenter John Humphrys, and brought together key figures from across the political and legal spectrum, including former home and foreign secretary Jack Straw and Sir Paul Jenkins QC, formerly the UK government's most senior legal official and permanent secretary to the attorney general.
With the Article 50 case looming in the background, the consensus on the panel was that there was just too much uncertainty to predict the UK’s position in two and half years, on the 2019 departure date indicated by Prime Minister Theresa May.
This continuing uncertainty about the UK’s position is causing difficulty within UK business – many just don’t know how to plan for future trade and investment, domestically and with international partners.
Assuming the Supreme Court upholds the divisional court in the case, the timing of the parliamentary process is unclear. There have been reports that there could be a general election to bolster May's small majority, and however unlikely that is, this is all happening against the backdrop of Germany, France and the Netherlands facing major elections.
Businesses in the City will face a brave new world of trade post-Brexit. The EU has over 30 trade deals with other countries across the globe, although few of these are significant to the UK. There are opportunities to build closer trading alliances with countries who made up the Commonwealth, who have shown early enthusiasm in negotiating with the UK, even though those countries may not have a sentimental view of the Commonwealth and what it represents.
Across the pond, the extraordinary election of Donald Trump suggests the UK may skip to the front of the negotiating queue. The UK has got to make it work with Trump – exiting the EU makes even more essential that we have a close and productive relationship with the US.
As the case continues for the next few days and uncertainty piles on top of uncertainty, it is clear that a significant amount of work lies ahead for businesses in the City. It is key for businesses to work on what little certainty they have and the potential opportunities and issues, because the more they plan now, the faster they can get off the starting blocks once things are more certain.