Would a Brexit significantly change the way the English public sector buys supplies and services?

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

There has been some serious thought put into the potential implications of Brexit for the ways in which the UK public sector buys supplies and services—or, in technical terms, on the Brexit implications from a public procurement perspective. Academics, such as Dr Pedro Telles, and practitioners such as Michael Bowsher QC, Peter Smith, Roger Newman or Kerry Teahan have started to reflect on the likely consequences from a legal and business case perspective.

The overwhelming consensus is that a Brexit is highly unlikely to result in any significant substantive changes of the rules applicable to the public sector’s buying activity and that existing ‘EU-based regulation’ (notably, the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, as already amended by the Public Procurement (Amendments, Repeals and Revocations) Regulations 2016) is very likely to be replaced by an almost identical ‘English-reimagined regulation’. Economic studies, such as that carried out by Global Counsel, have also considered the likely impact of Brexit on public procurement as moderate—although in the economic area there is less consensus, as pointed out by Procurious.

Overall, it may seem that public procurement is an area where a Brexit would be unlikely to create much more than legal uncertainty and some economic costs (which are for the UK population to evaluate) and that, after a suitable (possibly long) period of time, new rules would be in place and the sector would carry on as usual. Optimists may identify an opportunity to improve existing rules once the EU requirements are set aside and a distinct English-reimagined regulation can be adopted and implemented (if that is at all possible, which most commentators reject). I would like to entertain that possibility for a second and consider to what extent the creation of a significantly better English-reimagined public procurement regulation is likely to materialise.

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