Square Mile’s elite partners say Brexit will definitely happen

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Jul 06, 2017
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Andrew Ballheimer, Malcolm Sweeting, James Palmer and James Smethurst were questioned on Brexit at a Brief debate chaired by Baroness Wheatcroft

Tom Pilston for The Times

Anyone holding their breath in hope that the UK will not leave the EU despite the referendum result should exhale now, according to senior commercial lawyers.

There was unanimity among top flight partners at five of the City of London’s elite group of international firms, who were asked whether the country would go through with Brexit at the Brief Premium panel on Tuesday evening.

“Brexit is going to happen,” said Andrew Ballheimer, the global managing partner at Allen & Overy. He went on to tell the 200-plus audience of senior lawyers, judges and businesspeople that “the political courage it would take to stop it is absent”. Ballheimer accused the British government of suffering from a “vacuum of ideas around Brexit”.

The panel included Malcolm Sweeting, senior partner at Clifford Chance, James Smethurst, a corporate partner and Brexit specialist at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, James Palmer, senior partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, Charlie Jacobs, senior partner and chairman at Linklaters, and was chaired by Baroness Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer and former editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Charlie Jacobs, right, of Linklaters, was also on the panel

Tom Pilston for The Times

While the lawyers agreed on the inevitability of Brexit, they were split over the technical issue of whether Article 50, which triggers the withdrawal process, was revocable.

Jolyon Maugham, QC, a tax specialist at Devereux chambers, ran a brief and now aborted attempt to convince the high court in Ireland that the UK could unilaterally undo the article 50 notification.

However, only two of the lawyers on the panel agreed that there was any legal case backing that view. “It is a very debatable question,” said Sweeting, pointing out that ironically, it would “ultimately be a question for Europe’s Court of Justice to decide”.

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