Article 50 – the countdown has started

So, the starting pistol has been fired. With a commitment to trigger Article 50 by the end of March the Government has published its white paper outlining how it will leave the EU and the single market within "two years to the day we submit our notification" - unless there is a unanimous agreement with the other 27 Member States to extend the process.

Whilst there are no major unexpected issues raised in the white paper there is clarification of the Government's intent. The Great Repeal Bill will firstly repeal the European Communities Act 1972, and secondly preserve EU Law as it stands. In other words, nothing will change immediately. Only when secondary legislation is instigated to repeal laws "that would otherwise not function sensibly" will we start to see changes taking place. Therefore, it is unlikely that any major new policies will become law in the near future.

However, the main focus for change will be on immigration and custom which is not unexpected.

Principle 5 confirms that "the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law". Principle 6 also confirms that there is still a long way to go to secure the status quo, and provide certainty to, EU nationals already in the UK and of course UK nationals in the EU. It's a Government priority but remains unclear as to how it will be resolved.

Principle 8 focuses on free trade and the aspiration for "the freest and most frictionless trade possible". The balance of trade between the UK and the EU certainly suggests that the UK will not simply 'go away'. A massive net importer from all the key EU countries, topped by Germany at a huge £25 billion with only Ireland as a significant net importer from the UK, it would not appear to be in the interests of our European partners to wish us gone and to levy high tariffs on us. The government appear confident that the damage would not be helpful to anyone.

The debate has started and we will see whether the UK’s politics dilute the deal that the Government wishes to set with the EU once Article 50 is triggered. Scotland and Wales, plus the main opposition party, have started putting forward suggested amendments. If these are considered in the best interests of the country then there are strong grounds for encouragement for business once the negotiations begin with the EU.