British Prime Minister Says She'll Trigger Article 50, Begin Brexit Negotiations by March 2017
"There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready and we will be ready soon."
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she will trigger Article 50 -- formally beginning the Brexit negotiation process -- "no later than the end of March next year."
May made the declaration on the first day of the Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, where she told delegates that post-Brexit the United Kingdom would be "a fully-independent, sovereign country" no longer governed by the "jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice."
"Brexit means Brexit and we're going to make a success of it," stated the Prime Minister, who succeeded David Cameron in July -- less than a month after he announced his resignation following a divisive EU referendum that saw a 52 percent majority of the U.K. population vote to leave the European Union.
Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the U.K. has two years to negotiate its withdrawal from the EU, although that process only begins once Article 50 has been triggered. The U.K. is the first country to leave the EU since its formation in 1993.
"There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready and we will be ready soon," said May of the historic decision, which she said would end "the authority of EU law in Britain."
The consequences of that decision for the music business are potentially huge, encompassing dramatic currency swings, new trade agreements and extra tariffs on imports and exports with EU member states -- such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden -- and the possibility of U.K. acts requiring separate working visas for each EU country they wish to visit, meaning extra administration and cost burdens, with smaller bands and tightly budgeted treks likely to be among those hardest hit.
There are also serious implications for copyright law, with the EU's eagerly-anticipated copyright reforms -- including its recent vow to make user-generated services like YouTube pay more to rights holders, as part of its Digital Single Market strategy -- only applicable to EU member states. If the U.K. is no longer part of the European Union, then British artists and rights holders are theoretically not bound by any legislation introduced by the European Parliament. Brexit does, however, mean that there is nothing to stop the British government from reforming its own copyright regulations, free from Brussels' red tape.
The contentious issue of controlling immigration was a key part of the EU referendum campaign and is sure to figure heavily in any Brexit negotiations. Speaking at the Conservative conference, Brexit Secretary David Davis said that the government would "protect the rights of EU citizens here, so long as Britons in Europe are treated the same way" -- no doubt a welcome statement to the thousands of EU citizens working at music companies in the U.K., as well as the 1.3 million Brits estimated to be living and working in Europe.
The near-certain introduction of a limit to immigration numbers is still likely to impact on British music companies, though. Drew Hill, managing director of the U.K.'s largest independent distributor Proper Music, told Billboard earlier this year that of its 120 warehouse workforce, at least one third are European migrants due to a shortage of British applicants. "We would not be in the position that we're in today in terms of having a very buoyant business were it not for those migrant workers."
Another consequence could be an increase in CD and vinyl manufacturing costs for the majority of U.K. labels that press their records in European countries and, as members of the EU, don't currently have to pay import taxes. Any increase in taxation post-Brexit would likely have a knock-on effect for U.S. labels and cut into their profit margins on physical product sold in the U.K.
Despite those concerns, the message from Theresa May's government is that British businesses and their international trading partners need not fear the consequences of formally leaving the EU.
"History shows that the easier it is for us to do business together, the better it is for both Britain and Europe," said Brexit Secretary David Davis, speaking after May. He added that it "certainly won't be to anyone's benefit to see an increase in barriers to trade, in either direction."
He continued: "We want to maintain the freest possible trade between us, without betraying the instruction we have received from the British people to take back control of our own affairs."
"The referendum was not a vote to turn in ourselves, to cut ourselves off from the world," said May earlier in the day. "It was a vote for Britain to stand tall. To believe in ourselves. To forge an ambitious and optimistic new role in the world."