What’s on the agenda for in-house lawyers in January 2021?

Despite the impending end of the Brexit transition period, negotiations between the UK and the European Union over a trade deal are still ongoing. As no agreement is in place, a no-deal Brexit remains a possibility. COVID-19 restrictions will continue to have a major impact on commercial activity in January and beyond, particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors.


The end of the Brexit transition period is imminent (11.00 pm on 31 December 2020), but negotiations between the UK and the European Union over a trade deal are still ongoing. In a joint statement on 13 December 2020, the Prime Minister and the European Commission President said that they had discussed the major unresolved topics, and had mandated their negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can be reached. No further deadline was set. With no agreement in place, a no-deal Brexit remains possible.

In the meantime, the UK has reached continuity trade deals with several countries, including Mexico, Canada, Egypt and Kenya. The Secretary of State for International Trade has also set out transparency and scrutiny arrangements for the UK’s potential new free trade agreements with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and for the UK’s proposed accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill 2019-21 has completed its ping pong stage and received Royal Assent, following the acceptance by both Houses of Parliament of a government amendment addressing the relationship between the Bill and the common frameworks programme.


COVID-19 restrictions will continue to have a major impact on commercial activity in the new year, particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors.

On 17 December 2020, the Chancellor announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be further extended until 30 April 2021. Employers will remain able to claim 80% of employees’ wages, capped at £2,500 per month for hours not worked (with the cap reduced in proportion to the hours not worked).

The government has also announced the extension, until 31 March 2021, of the UK Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), the UK Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

Corporate governance

BEIS has opened three consultations in relation to proposed improvements to corporate transparency. All three close on 3 February 2021. BEIS is consulting on:

On 10 December 2020 the FRC announced its corporate reporting review programme for 2021/22, as well as its priority sectors for review. It proposes to conduct five thematic reviews of corporate reporting, including on climate risk and interim reporting. In selecting corporate reports and audits for review, the FRC states that it will give priority to the following sectors:

  • Travel, hospitality and leisure.
  • Retail.
  • Property.
  • Financial services.

Employment contracts

BEIS has opened a consultation on measures to reform post-termination non-compete clauses in employment contracts. The consultation seeks views on proposals:

  • To require employers to continue paying compensation to employees for the duration of a post-termination non-compete clause.
  • Requiring employers to confirm in writing to employees the exact terms of a non-compete clause before their employment commences.
  • Introducing a statutory limit on the length of non-compete clauses.
  • Banning the use of post-termination non-compete clauses altogether.

The consultation closes on 26 February 2021.

In addition, BEIS has opened a consultation on measures to extend the ban on exclusivity clauses in employment contracts to cover those earning under the Lower Earnings Limit, currently £120 a week. This consultation also closes on 26 February 2021.

Climate change

On 14 December 2020, the government published its long-awaited Energy White Paper, which builds on the Prime Minister’s recent Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution. At its core, the Energy White Paper sets ambitions to 2030 and ultimately achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to combat climate change. It confirms that the government will introduce a UK Emissions Trading Scheme (instead of a carbon tax) from 1 January 2021 and provides the clearest indication so far of the move away from fossil fuels.

Smart contracts

The Law Commission has published its call for evidence on smart contracts. The call for evidence seeks views about, and evidence of, the ways in which smart contracts are being used, and the extent to which the existing law can accommodate them. The call for evidence closes on 31 March 2021.

Key dates for your diary

1 January 2021

6 January 2021

Consultation on proposed draft definitions of sensitive sectors closes.

8 January 2021

Deadline for comments on CMA’s revised mergers assessment guidelines.

24 January 2021

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/791) to be reviewed.

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