Tuesday 13 August 2019 3:03 pm

UK lawyers taking Belgian citizenship in case of no-deal Brexit

UK lawyers in Brussels are taking Belgian citizenship in order to keep practising before the European courts post-Brexit.

Brussels is a key centre for competition law and most large international law firms have an office there to advise clients on European law issues.

Trevor Soames, a Brussels-based partner with US law firm Quinn Emanuel who recently obtained Belgian citizenship, told City A.M.: “Everybody I know either has done it or is in the process of doing it. I can’t think of anybody who hasn’t –  they’d be silly not to.”

A competition partner at another US law firm said: “It is a trend that began soon after the Brexit referendum…It obviously makes good sense if you are working with European law.”

Read more: Court short: Will Brexit loosen the UK’s legal grip?

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, British lawyers practising in the EU will lose their right to lawyer-client privilege where any legal advice given remains confidential.

British lawyers will also lose their rights of audience before European courts.

“A significant part of my work is arguing cases before the European courts, as of 31 October my rights of audience cease. This goes for all British lawyers unless there is a withdrawal agreement,” Soames said.

More than 2,700 UK lawyers have paid €300 (£279) to join the Irish roll of solicitors to ensure they continue to maintain their current rights within the EU.

However, the Irish Law Society has thrown doubt on whether this will be enough with the suggestion that lawyers will need to be established within Ireland and pay indemnity insurance within the state.

Read more: The future eminence of our legal sector rests on more than Brexit

Soames said he had joined the Belgian Bar in order to maintain his rights to practice in the EU post-Brexit.

However, legally only citizens from the European Economic Area can join the Belgian Bar.

The Belgian government has granted a stay of execution, meaning lawyers from the UK can join the local Bar until 2021, but Soames said he was worried that right could lapse.

“Becoming a Belgian citizen protects me from the possibility this law will click back and come into operation at the end of 2021,” he said.

“Taking another nationality is not something I have done lightly,” he said. “I’m very happy to be living in Belgium and grateful but I never imagined it would ever be necessary and when doing it I was sad.”