LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s next prime minister must make it their “overriding” priority to protect London’s globally competitive position in finance after Brexit, financial services minister John Glen said on Tuesday.
Britain is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 but it has yet to secure a divorce settlement with the bloc, which is the UK financial sector’s single biggest customer.
The selection of a new prime minister has added to the uncertainty for the British financial services industry, which has long been calling for clarity on the country’s relations with the EU after it leaves.
“Whatever happens in the next few weeks, the government will always be committed to supporting and enabling the City to maintain and strengthen its world leading position,” Glen told a conference held by financial sector lobby TheCityUK.
Britain has got to have a “clear plan” to maintain the City’s place at the centre of the global financial system because success cannot be taken for granted, Glen said, adding that finance minister Philip Hammond will set out how to build on the City’s strength in a speech on Thursday.
“This must be an overriding imperative of whoever becomes Prime Minister. It would be a tragedy if we lost our competitive advantage by accident through complacency or lack of decisive action where needed,” he added.
Glen said the government was well aware that the financial sector, known in Britain as the City of London, wanted an end to the ‘Brexit impasse’.
Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Dublin have been vying to attract new hubs being opened by UK-based financial companies needing an EU base after Brexit.
Bankers see the shift of some jobs and activities from the City to the EU as inevitable and one-way, whatever the future UK trading deal with Brussels.
But Glen said none of those rival financial centres in the EU can match all that London has to offer.
TheCityUK’s new chair, Mark Tucker, said the financial sector was Britain’s most successful economic sector bar none and has a comparative advantage over other countries in that it is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate.
“It’s the envy of other nations,” said Tucker, who also chairs global bank HSBC.
Finance needed to recover the public’s trust and have a “coherent and united front” so that it becomes more than the sum of its parts to demonstrate the benefits that finance brings to the economy and communities, Tucker said.
“The foremost issue is the UK’s trading and investment relationship with Europe and the major markets in the rest of the world, including the U.S., China and Southeast Asia.”
“We all want the government to negotiate the best possible access for financial and related financial services within the EU,” Tucker said.
“Irrespective of Brexit, it’s more important than ever that the UK engages constructively with its key partners to protect and promote its place in the world.”
Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Catherine Evans, Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith