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Don't count on mass exodus from London says City chief

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Jeremy Browne, special representative for the City to the EU; Julie Sinnamon, ceo, Enterprise Ireland; Sean Ryan, partner and chair of Eversheds' Brexit group, in Dublin. Photo: Paul Sherwood

Jeremy Browne, special representative for the City to the EU; Julie Sinnamon, ceo, Enterprise Ireland; Sean Ryan, partner and chair of Eversheds' Brexit group, in Dublin. Photo: Paul Sherwood

Jeremy Browne, special representative for the City to the EU; Julie Sinnamon, ceo, Enterprise Ireland; Sean Ryan, partner and chair of Eversheds' Brexit group, in Dublin. Photo: Paul Sherwood

The City of London will be diminished as a result of Brexit, but the argument that firms will look to relocate is overstated, the City's special representative to the EU has told the Irish Independent.

Former Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne said London will remain the biggest financial centre in Europe even after the UK exits the EU.

Possible contenders that could potentially lure firms - including Dublin - lack scale, and there is nervousness about having financial services split between too many locations, he said, on a visit to Dublin.

"There isn't a ready made alternative to London," Mr Browne said, on the margins of a Brexit briefing hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade and organised by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and Eversheds.

"All of the centres have aspects to recommend them, but they all have downsides as well, and the one downsides they share in common is lack of scale," he said.

"One of the biggest advantages that people see in London is that all of the people that they work with, all of their advisors, all of their customers, are within pretty much walking distance.

"There is some nervousness about disaggregating the provision into lots of different centres," said Mr Browne.

"And instead of Europe having an indisputable global financial hub, it will have a series of smaller financial centres providing those services less efficiently and at a higher cost.

"It [the relocation argument] is likely to be overstated. That's not to say that it won't happen to some degree, but I don't anticipate a mass exodus."

Amid reports of growing fears within the City that the British government is heading towards a so-called 'hard Brexit', which could leave it without access to the single market, Mr Browne said most businesses want as soft a Brexit as it politically possible.

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"I think the difficult issue is how that can be balanced with political imperatives and the British government has to make a judgement about how it interprets the referendum result in a way that is acting in good faith towards the British electorate, but also is least disruptive to Britain and Europe's economic interest," he said.

And he said if there is an initial short-to-medium term negative impact on the City, it will likely reinvigorate itself. "It is likely that Brexit will diminish London in the short term," Mr Browne said.

"In the medium to longer term, that's harder to say with certainty.

"The City of London has shown a strong capacity for reinvention, adaptation and ways that people have found to make money and offer attractive products over the last 20 years are not necessarily an guide to how you make money and attract customers in the next 20 years.

"The city of London has completely reinvented itself from when I was a child when it was a much more traditional, gentleman's network of arrangements, and now it's a very dynamic, globalised international centre. There are people in the City who says that the City has the capacity, the imagination to find new ways to succeed."

Earlier Mr Browne told the briefing that it would be hard for the British government to come to a conclusion that allows continued free movement between the EU and UK.


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