Brexit means plan for Brexit - right now

While Brexit looks set to herald the most significant change to businesses' operating environment in a generation, we don't yet know what leaving the EU will actually mean for organisations on a day-to-day basis. With the UK Government tight-lipped about its nascent negotiating strategy, and with the commencement of negotiations months (and a not insignificant Supreme Court ruling) away, it might seem difficult for organisations to meaningfully plan for Brexit at this time.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Pro-Brexit demonstrators protest outside the Houses of Parliament on November 23, 2016 in London, England. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she will not delay triggering article 50, the formal process of leaving the European Union, but wants to avoid a "cliff edge". (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

But the coming months need not be a waiting game. Indeed, as Government works to formulate its own negotiating approach, now is precisely the time for business to be both planning for Brexit and making its voice heard. Policy, especially on the scale required to deliver an effective, workable Brexit, can rarely – if ever – be developed in a vacuum. In advance of the triggering of Article 50, Government is aware that it needs to operate in a listening mode.

A vital first step for any business seeking to prepare for Brexit is to establish what effect the UK’s departure from the EU may have on their organisation. This can be achieved by undertaking a Business Impact Audit from which an “issues log” can be developed. Onto this, “best” and “worst” Brexit outcomes can be mapped and, through scenario planning, the potential impact of these outcomes on strategy and future business growth gauged, across the jurisdictions in which you operate.

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Understanding the risks of Brexit is vital, but it’s equally important to define what a “good Brexit” would look like and to articulate what your company wants Brexit to achieve. Where possible, the potential impacts – positive and negative – should be modelled and evidenced to create an easily-understood explanation of how different Brexit scenarios might affect your business, and important stakeholders such as customers and colleagues. Equipped with an understanding of the issues which are of most importance to you and your stakeholders, there are a number of routes which businesses can pursue in order to engage at this stage in the process.

Organisations can: respond to the various Government outreach initiatives already under way, many of them sector-specific; work through trade bodies and professional associations, many of which are already leading their own engagement and campaigning programmes on issues of particular relevance; or seek to engage directly with policy makers.

Businesses with significant operations in other EU Member States might also consider whether there are corresponding opportunities to engage and make their voice heard in those countries, where policy makers will be approaching negotiations from a very different perspective.

Pinsent Masons has devised a range of Brexit solutions to help clients get to grips with its challenges and opportunities. Our cross-
border, multi-disciplinary Brexit Advisory Team can facilitate discussions within your organisation about what practical steps can be taken to prepare for change. The team can also advise on legal, strategic and procedural issues associated with the Parliamentary process at both Westminster and Holyrood.

The Brexit Advisory Service (BASe) is a subscription-based portal which pools the insight and knowhow of 1,500 Pinsent Masons lawyers to provide answers on any Brexit-related legal questions within 48 hours, and also offers a weekly digest of Brexit news and informed comment on the latest developments.

Working with sister company Cerico and utilising the latest Artificial Intelligence, we have developed Brexit Contracting Solution to support businesses in ensuring new commercial contracts are future proofed and existing contracts reviewed and if necessary renegotiated, along with supply chain risk analysis to alleviate the risk of any nasty surprises further down the Brexit route.

For organisations who want to grasp the opportunities posed by Brexit – or at least mitigate the risks – now is the time to be planning– and working to make their views known on what they want to see come out from the UK Government’s exit negotiations.

Andrew Henderson is Director of Public Policy, Pinsent Masons,