EY: Post-Brexit operational relocations stabilise five years on from Article 50 trigger

Since the UK’s referendum to leave the EU, called by the Conservative government under David Cameron, 97 out of 222 of the country’s largest financial services firms have announced plans to move some UK operations and staff to the EU.

In the six years following the referendum, 24 firms publicly declared they will transfer just over £1.3trn in UK assets to the EU as a result of the vote – a figure which EY said has remained “broadly flat” over the past 18 months.

The Brexit tracker shows that Brexit-related operational announcements have stabilised, as “strategic commercial decisions are increasingly influenced by wider factors impacting individual business needs and operating models”.

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EY noted that many “worst-case-scenario” contingency plans have not been enacted, but the firm anticipates ongoing operational and staff moves from financial firms across Europe as “Brexit increasingly becomes part of a broader conversation about strategic business drivers and operating models”.

Activity to that respect accelerated following the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017, by which point nearly a quarter of the UK’s largest financial services firms had announced plans to relocate staff and/or operations to the EU. Over a year later, this figure rose to 32% in June 2018, and 42% in October 2020.

Meanwhile, the total number of Brexit-related job relocation announcements from the UK to Europe fell to just above 7,000 in the last quarter from 7,600 in March 2021, and 10,500 in March 2017.

In the immediate months following the referendum in 2016, the total number of planned job relocations reached 12,500.

Omar Ali, EMEIA financial services leader at EY, said: “In the months following the referendum, financial firms voiced their intentions to bolster EU subsidiaries, move staff abroad and relocate headquarters in preparation for all possible scenarios.

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“The high number of potential job relocations reported in 2016 aligned with the uncertainty which surrounded the City’s ongoing relationship with Europe at the time. As firms gained greater clarity on what the post-Brexit landscape would look like, plans were consolidated and, in some cases, firms revised down the number of people they would need to relocate.”

Dublin has been “crowned winner” as the location of choice for operational moves after the Brexit referendum, with 36 financial services firms announcing intentions to relocate operations and/staff to the Irish capital. Luxembourg is the second most popular destination, according to the report.

Ali added: “The UK industry, which was arguably under the most threat from Brexit, continues to agree trade deals and attract business from across Europe and beyond, as it increasingly concentrates on innovating services and products and implementing new and more tailored regulation.

“In the last year alone, the UK financial services market has driven progress on fintech, the transition to net zero, diversity and inclusion, AI and central bank digital currencies.”

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