Last week I had the pleasure of visiting both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland– my final two visits as lord mayor of the City of London.
As my year in office draws to a close, it was the perfect opportunity to hear the views of senior representatives from the country and region, and discuss how we can improve ties in the financial and related professional services sector.
As part of my visit to Dublin, I met the tanaiste (or deputy prime minister) Frances Fitzgerald, and the governor of the Bank of Ireland, Philip Lane. We discussed a range of topics, but, as you would imagine, the conversation quickly turned to Brexit.
The UK media has been quick to suggest that Dublin will be a beneficiary of London’s potential losses as our exit from the EU approaches. It may be the case that some firms enhance their Ireland presence, but based on my conversations with government and business leaders, the overwhelming sense was that Brexit poses many complications for Dublin. It was clear that the negative impacts of a cliff-edge departure from the EU well outweigh the positives for the Irish.
Dublin’s establishment as a major European financial hub has undoubtedly been aided by its close ties and proximity to London – the world’s leading financial centre – and it is now ranked seventh in Western Europe, ahead of Amsterdam, Jersey and Stockholm.
This relationship with the UK has also boosted trade links, with an estimated €1.1bn of trade between the two each week, directly supporting around 400,000 jobs.
For me, my visit reiterated that it is now more important than ever that the UK and Ireland continue to engage and support one another – particularly through the Brexit process – in order to ensure that jobs are created and our economies continue to thrive.
After my time in Dublin, I travelled to Belfast and Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
The pioneering spirit and entrepreneurialism showcased across the region was truly world-class.
I was particularly impressed by Belfast’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies, where top-level academic researchers and startups collaborate with some the largest US firms in Northern Ireland on researching cyber threats. The financial services sector in particular is run almost entirely through cyber and technological systems, which hold a significant amount of confidential data, and the work being undertaken here is vital to safeguard firms against significant attacks.
I also joined a Brexit roundtable with firms based in Northern Ireland, where we discussed the main concerns ahead of the UK’s departure in March 2019. The concerns that were voiced around the table reiterated the need for greater clarification from the government on the status of EU workers in the UK, the need for an early transitional deal, and guidance on what the final trade agreement might look like.
More than a year on from the referendum vote, it is more important than ever that we work together to champion the importance of the financial and related professional services sector, both here in the UK, and across Europe. As an industry, we must present to the government the importance of remaining open, and increasing collaboration with our closest neighbours in order to facilitate and finance growth, both domestically, and abroad.