It is more than a month since prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, describing it as an “historic moment from which there is no turning back”. Since then May has won overwhelming backing from MPs to hold a snap general election on 8 June, and said a Conservative victory “will make me stronger for when I negotiate for Britain with the European Union.”
This level of interest and focus on Brexit will continue for the next two years or longer, while politicians and civil servants from both sides conduct the inevitably complex negotiations over the UK’s exit terms and find some new form of cohabitation with the EU.
For ICAEW, triggering Article 50 does not mean that the EU and Brexit are going to disappear from our agenda. There are strong geographic, regulatory, political, trade-related and – importantly – membership reasons why that is the case. However hard or soft the UK’s exit is, the EU will remain a key global economic player, with a significant voice both in policymaking and in international regulatory and standard-setting. It will continue to shape the way our members, our businesses and our profession work.
There will be times over the next few years when it may appear that we are batting for “Team Britain” even though we are an international body with a large membership in other EU countries. In a sense, this is inevitable as we will be seeking to ensure that there is as little disruption to business in the UK as possible. We want to make sure that the UK remains one of the world’s strongest economies and one which is not only attractive to business but allows them to thrive.
But rest assured: we have no intention of losing sight of the fact that ICAEW members, wherever they are based, have deeply rooted interests in Europe. ICAEW member firms have a major presence in European accountancy markets as important players in the various international association and network structures based there. We have close partnerships with professional bodies, oversight authorities and other stakeholders and a growing number of students across Europe, from the Baltics and central and eastern Europe to Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar and Greece. We also have plans in place to expand into other markets in the coming years.
In 1994, ICAEW became the first national professional accountancy body to set up an EU presence in Brussels. Since then our European region headquarters has engaged with an extensive range of senior EU policymakers and stakeholders and established strong relationships with European institutions both directly and through Accountancy Europe (formerly the Federation of European Accountants). We want to maintain our leadership position within the European accountancy profession post-Brexit. This is not only essential to our continuing success in providing training opportunities and supporting members in the Europe region, but it also enhances our reputation as a commentator of global relevance.
Influencing the EU through our technical expertise, thought leadership and original research is and will remain a key objective. Equally, our European activities enable us to share insights on how EU regulatory initiatives can drive or contribute to global progress on matters of important professional, business and public interest.
For example, we recently published a major paper in the public finances arena setting out the case for prioritising reform of EU public sector accounting standards in a global context, and we collaborated with EGIAN, the European group of international accounting networks and associations, on tax research into business compliance with EU tax regimes. We will also shortly be launching a joint report with Deloitte on the experiences of audit committees in newer EU member states.
As we work with governments globally to build a world of strong economies, we will continue to work in the UK, the EU and beyond to minimise barriers to trade and investment, promote best practice in audit, financial reporting and corporate governance and ensure mutual market access for accountancy services.
It is inevitable that as the Brexit negotiations start in earnest, there will be even more speculation and uncertainty and lack of clarity, both in the UK and the 27 other member states. Whatever the outcome, it will clearly have an impact on our members, our profession and our institute. But it will not affect our commitment. Unlike the UK, ICAEW is not leaving the EU.
ICAEW chief executive