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According to bookmakers, the UK is very much odds on to leave the EU in 2019 with the professional services industry at risk of taking a hit in the process.

Alex Shall, Partner at Haines Watts London explores the potential impact for professional practices.


Leaving the single market

Short of Labour forcing a general election, replacing Jeremy Corbyn with Keir Starmer and doing a ‘Norway style’ single market deal with the EU by 29 March, very soon we will be leaving the Single market.

Of course we may be in a transition period until December 2020, but the UK government and the EU have been clear that there will be no arrangements after that date to facilitate cross border trade in services.

The open letter to Theresa May from leaders of architectural profession makes clear that this will cause profound harm to the services sector. The risk of a ‘hard’ Brexit means that this could happen within three months.

What does this mean for owners of architects practices, engineers, law firms, consultants, accounting firms and other professional service firms who have clients or suppliers in the EU?


Working within the EU

Well firstly, there’s uncertainty over what arrangements will apply. Your potential client might well decide that it is simply too risky to award a contract to you when the legal and regulatory landscape if shifting.

Then there’s the potential for additional legal fees and project management time. We have reports of architects being told by European clients that contracts for active projects may need to be redrafted once the nature of Brexit is fully understood. Entering a renegotiation mid-way through a contract is hardly a good use of a business owner’s precious time.


What about mutual recognition of qualifications?

RIBA have published some guidance on this, but it makes for difficult reading.  Registering your EU qualified staff with the relevant regulator in the UK such as the Architects Registration Board is simply a paperwork exercise. But what about your practice’s ability to carry out work in other EU countries? RIBA have suggested you “contact the host state regulator of the country they wish to practise in now in order to seek clarity”, in other words they have no idea if you’ll be qualified to carry out work in Europe or not.

VAT is another area where practices could come unstuck. VAT is a European tax and there are considerable provisions in VAT law to facilitate trade in services between businesses in different member states. When the UK leaves the EU and customs area our VAT theoretically becomes a standalone UK tax, and there will be implications for practices, their suppliers and their customers.

The same problems that UK business owners will have to consider will also impact suppliers and partners you deal with in other European countries. For example if a UK architect working on a project in France wants to subcontract work to a France based engineering consultant, all of the above issues may also impact that relationship.

Over the coming months on this blog, we will be considering some of these matters in more detail as well as commenting on developments as they unfold.


Get in touch with us for advice on preparing your professional practice for Brexit.

Read more Breixt based blogs here.

Want to know more? Call us on 0207 025 4650 or email

About the author

Alex Shall

Alex acts for established owner-managed businesses principally in the creative sector which include architecture, consulting, design, new media and software development. He has supported international groups with connections to the USA, Italy, France, Cyprus, Hong Kong and China and is well versed in the complexities of supporting business owners with global interests. His work has included raising finance and acquisition advice, succession planning, tax structuring and evaluating and implementing accounting and reporting systems, including cloud solutions.


I like being there to help clients though each phase of their businesses’ life cycle. Working with so many professional practices means that at any one time I am simultaneously helping some start their first business, helping others manage steady growth, working with others to overcome the inevitable bumps in the road and finally helping plan profitable successions or sales.

If I wasn't doing this I'd be: a lawyer. They seem to have more fun.

Favourite Book: 1984

Dream Location: on a boat in the Aegean.

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