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23 August 2017

‘No-deal Brexit’ presents threat of legal uncertainties

Millions of families and businesses involved in cross-border legal disputes could face lengthier and more complicated court cases, a new government paper states.

Divorces, child custody battles and business disagreements are just some of the cases that could be affected if Britain and the EU fail to agree some "coherent common rules" following withdrawal.

British law currently works in line with the EU's civil judicial co-operation system which provides a clear set of rules to manage cross-border civil and commercial disputes.

Published just days ahead of the third round of formal Brexit talks, the paper asserts that any new rules will need to "closely" reflect the current laws to avoid more complicated and lengthier disputes.

It states: "Citizens and businesses need to have continuing confidence as they interact across borders about which country's courts would deal with any dispute, which laws would apply and to know that judgments and orders obtained will be recognised and enforced in neighbouring countries as is the case now."

The UK intends to apply as an individual state for membership of international judicial agreements, according to the paper. These include the Hague Conventions and the Lugano Convention, in which Britain currently participates through its EU membership.

"Commercial business-to-business disputes that take place across borders with EU27 countries, such as on late payments, must have quick and easy remedies to shore up small business trading confidence," says Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.

He says early communication over agreements with the EU is essential as small businesses will need time to adapt to any new changes.

Political parties have been critical of the Conservatives' attitude of "no deal is better than a bad deal", with Labour MP Wes Streeting saying British children are facing "legal limbo".

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake says the approach means children are being placed in greater risk with "families plunged into uncertainty".

He said: "The Government needs to end its heartless insistence that no deal is better than a bad deal. Avoiding the devastating human consequences of an extreme Brexit should come ahead of the ideological obsessions of Tory Brexiteers.

"The Conservatives claim to be the party of family values, but their plans would risk tearing more families apart."

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