Boris Johnson has spent decades agitating against the European Union and the last five years battling to free the United Kingdom from the shackles of regulation from Brussels. Now he’s in the awkward position of finding himself at the mercy of EU leaders for permission to rejoin an international treaty, or risk devastating Britain’s multi-billion-dollar legal services industry.
The agreement in question is called the Lugano Convention, and essentially it establishes the jurisdiction of national courts, guaranteeing the legal recognition and enforcement of a wide range of civil and commercial judgments in cross-border disputes. London is widely regarded as the global capital for international dispute resolution, thanks to England’s world-class legal system and courts. It is a broad and highly lucrative industry, dealing with everything from family disputes to international business operations. And a long-term failure to rejoin the Lugano Convention could represent a grave threat to the UK’s world-beating legal services sector, as well as creating difficulties for large companies and ordinary people alike.
The UK dropped out of the treaty as a consequence of Brexit, and applied to rejoin in April 2020. Yet, while the non-EU signatory states (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) agreed to its re-admission, to date the European Commission has recommended that the EU deny this request, and said that the bloc was “not in a position” to give its consent to UK accession. This is tricky for the British prime minister, both politically and economically. According to the Law Society, legal services added nearly £60 billion ($83 billion) to the UK economy in 2018, while in 2017 exports of legal services hit £5 billion ($6.9 billion).