30 Jun 2020

Brexit drives Brussels firm Van Bael & Bellis to launch in London

Top trade and competition practice to open Chancery Lane office in September

Alex Stratakis and David Hull

Alex Stratakis (left) and David Hull: helping to lead the charge in London

Heavyweight Brussels EU antitrust and trade specialist Van Bael & Bellis (VBB) is to open in London in response to Brexit.

The office in Chancery Lane will be led by partners David Hull and Philippe De Baere working alongside former Baker McKenzie counsel Alex Stratakis, who has joined as resident partner having previously worked at the firm for a two-year period from 2005.

With the notable exception of Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick, which opened in the London in 2007, few Belgian firms have felt the need to have a physical presence in the UK’s capital given the quality of its transport links with Brussels.

VBB markets itself as a specialist referral destination, particularly for Asian and US law firms seeking EU advice for their clients, and will offer UK law capability from its London arm, which is due to open in September.

The 70-lawyer firm said a variety of Brexit-related factors were behind its decision to open only its third office —  aside from its Brussels headquarters, which launched in 1986, it also has an arm in Geneva, home to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“Companies will increasingly need advice on the implications of the UK exiting the EU and how to mitigate any negative effects on their supply chains,” said De Baere, a trade specialist with more than thirty years’ experience.

He said the UK would become more rigorous in its approach to foreign direct investment and national security screening in a move that was likely to affect the firm’s Chinese client base.

And he added that VBB was also well placed to advise the UK as it became directly involved as a party in WTO dispute settlement proceedings in Geneva.

Meanwhile, VBB’s work in competition law and especially litigation before the European courts puts it in a strong position to take advantage of UK’s expected divergence from EU legislation, especially over state aid.  

Hull joined from Covington & Burling, where he was head of antitrust, in 2014 and is one of a number of UK-qualified lawyers at VBB.

He said: “Post-Brexit, the UK Competition and Markets Authority and the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate are likely to handle issues such as complex merger control assessments, antitrust investigations and trade disputes. 

“For competition work, companies will be required to manage both EU and UK regulatory requirements and this will be particularly important for mergers.” 

The announcement of the new office comes as trade talks between UK and EU negotiators intensify following the UK’s exit from the European Union in January 2020. Should a deal fail to be agreed, the UK would then trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms – with significant economic impacts for businesses and associated disputes.