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Taking stock: the legal impact of the first six months of Brexit on the retail sector

Issue : June 2021

Taking stock: the legal impact of the first six months of Brexit on the retail sector
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Immigration

The UK implemented a revised points-based immigration system for work permits following Brexit. Although the mechanism for work sponsorship remains the same, the changes herald a more flexible work permit system due to the lowering of the minimum skill level from university level to school-leaver level.

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Intellectual property

Many retailers have taken advantage in recent years of the EU-wide protection regimes available for protecting their valuable brands via a trade mark or a design. Now, they need to obtain protection separately in the EU and in the UK.

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Employment

Brexit is not expected to have any significant implications for UK employment law. The UK Government has committed to avoiding a "race to the bottom" with regard to employment rights, and from this first six months of the post-Brexit period there is no indication that any changes are imminent (the UK Government recently u-turned on its review of employment rights).

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Trade in goods and services

Significant volumes of goods of all descriptions are shipped every day between the UK and the EU. We have already seen that businesses involved in exporting or importing goods have faced significant challenges in terms of delays, paperwork and cost.

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Competition

UK competition law continues to apply unchanged by Brexit. UK retailers should take steps to ensure they are aware of and continue to comply with the rules on anti-competitive agreements and conduct, so as to avoid possible investigations and fines.

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Commercial contracts

Whilst many retailers will have reviewed or "future-proofed" their contractual arrangements before the end of the Brexit transition period to mitigate Brexit-related risks, there are a number of issues they should still continue to bear in mind when negotiating commercial contracts, alongside IP, Trade in Goods and Services, and Data Protection.

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Corporate matters

The main areas that retail businesses should be aware of as a result of Brexit are potential changes to the organisational structure of their businesses and the associated regulatory obligations.

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Data protection

Data is an important asset to retailers, and they will have been watching developments post-Brexit carefully. The EU GDPR no longer directly applies in the UK, but the UK now has its own (largely similar) "UK GDPR". Most businesses in the UK are subject to the UK GDPR, and may also be subject to the EU GDPR. It will be important to monitor whether divergence between EU GDPR and UK GDPR begins to happen – if it does, this could have important economic and legal implications.

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