By Massimo Calabresi
June 24, 2016

The happiest people in Britain today may well be the lawyers. Setting aside the symbolic meaning of the British vote to leave the European Union, practically speaking “Brexit” means tearing up hundreds of laws, rules and agreements governing everything from trade to immigration to agricultural subsidies.

Once the immediate satisfaction of throwing the mountains of confetti produced by those E.U. Brexit shredders passes, however, Britain and the world will get back to business. To do that, they’ll need rules to replace all the ones they just tore up. That means hundreds of government lawyers and diplomats negotiating new agreements to replace the old ones.

Under the EU treaty, once Prime Minster David Cameron informs Brussels of Britain’s intention to leave, the UK will have two years to figure all that out, assuming Europe doesn’t kick them out first.

As the indispensible website Lawfare explains, the agreements to replace fall into three categories: those with the EU, those with other countries, and those internal British laws and regulations that were mandated by membership in the EU:

Everything covered by the EU treaties would need to be considered and potentially replicated, including topics like agriculture, services, atomic energy cooperation, and any number of other areas. Switzerland could be a model here; its relationship with the EU is governed by more than 120 treaties and agreements…

[For third party agreements] the EU Treaties Office provides a complete database of all the EU’s international treaties and agreements; there are about 880 bilateral treaties and 260 multilateral treaties. It’s definitely long enough to keep British diplomats busy for the next two years…

[Within Britain], according to the House of Commons Library, anywhere between 15 percent and 55 percent of Britain’s laws come from, or are based on, EU law (the ranges depend on whether, or to what extent, EU regulations are considered laws).

It doesn’t stop there. Pretty much every British company will need legal advice to prepare for, and perhaps influence, the new rules as they are rewritten. That means armies of private lawyers on the clock.

It is worth noting that as those companies seek to influence the new rules, they may not necessarily have the interests of those working class “Leave” voters who felt left behind by big business and its embrace of globalization. But at least one section of the economy, legal services, will be protected.

 

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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