Enterprise Management Incentives and Brexit
Like any EU member state, the UK is subject to the ‘state aid regime’ regarding competition law, governed by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and associated European legislation. These rules are in place to ensure open and fair competition and to prevent subsidies causing unfair distortions within the single market.
State aid is relevant to Enterprise Management Incentives (“EMI”). This is because it is an employee share incentive arrangement with very generous tax reliefs that is available for the benefit of selected employees of small and medium sized companies which meet certain legislative requirements. In other words, EMI is an advantage or benefit that is being conferred to certain undertakings on a selective basis by the UK.
For so long as the UK remains in the EU, it will need continued approval from the European Commission for EMI share schemes to be operated by ‘selected’ undertakings. The current state aid approval for EMI, which was granted on 15 May 2018, is valid until 6 April 2023, subject to the terms of any withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU.
What happens after 29 March 2019?
The government has indicated that if there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, from 29 March 2019 the ‘EU state aid rules will be transposed into UK domestic law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act’ (See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/state-aid-if-theres-no-brexit-deal/state-aid-if-theres-no-brexit-deal). The guidance also indicates that existing state aid approvals will be carried over to UK domestic law.
In a recent meeting between HMRC and UK tax advisers, HMRC stated that, in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit, the current state aid approval for EMI will continue to remain valid until 6 April 2023, without any break.
If, on the other hand, the UK reaches an agreement with the EU to the effect that the UK remains subject to the EU’s state aid laws, it is also reasonably expected that the existing state aid approval for EMI will remain effective at least until 6 April 2023.
In short, irrespective of whether there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit or the UK reaches an agreement with the EU in which the UK remains subject to the EU’s state aid laws, qualifying UK companies should be able to grant tax-advantaged EMI options to selected eligible employees for the foreseeable future.