English law remains favourable in maritime trade even after Brexit

London-based legal firm Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has issued a briefing paper on the potential implications of Brexit from a maritime law point of view.

Once Article 50 to withdraw from the European Union is invoked, an extendable two-year deadline will then kick in for the UK to negotiate a new trade deal with Europe, WFW says, during which time the country remains a full EU member.

Whatever the outcome of that negotiation, “English law will remain a favourable legal regime for the documentation of international contracts and transactions,” it believes, “due to the certainty of its long established legal precedent and court system.”

“As regards England as a jurisdiction for disputes, Brexit should not have any effect on the pre-eminence of London and its arbitral institutions in the resolution of international arbitrations,” WFW adds. “The current worldwide enforceability of London awards should remain.”

Furthermore, the maritime lawyers do not consider it either necessary or likely that “the English courts and those of the remaining Member States will lose a common framework for ruling on jurisdiction or applicable law or that the reciprocal enforcement of judgments or recognition of insolvency proceedings will cease.”

The UK for its part is likely to keep up its obligations as far as international maritime conventions are concerned, WFW says, and it would expect “most EU environmental legislation that has shown itself to be of value to be incorporated into the laws of the UK.”

EU tonnage tax is not derived from EU law but currently is obliged to comply with EU State Aid Law, says WFW. If this were no longer the case – which is by no means certain, especially if the UK becomes an EEA member like Norway, which follows EU tonnage tax rules – there could be the possibility of “relaxations to the rules, for example on the limits on time chartered in tonnage.”

The big uncertainties concern potential changes to employment law and border controls, WFW concludes, which it says will depend on “where the discussions between the UK and other EU member states finally come out on the key issues of free movement and access to the Single Market.” Until then it remains “business as usual”.

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