When the people of the United Kingdom flocked to their local primary schools and town halls back on 23 June 2016, it was to vote in perhaps the most significant referendum of their lifetimes. Few people imagined that the result of the UK's European Union membership referendum would end up going the way it did.
With an impressive turnout of over 72%, the result shocked not just Britain, but the whole of Europe. One of the EU's biggest players had voted to leave the union. It may have only been a victory of 52% to 48% for the Leave campaign, but it was happening. Brexit was happening.
Since then the UK has reeled. Politicians who had banked on a rejection of Brexit have seen their reputations damaged. UK Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down because of it. Tensions have been high, and uncertainty has run riot. If there's one thing that business leaders hate most, it's uncertainty.
Some eighteen months after the result and nine months since the much-discussed Article 50 clause was triggered, the business world is still scratching its head. Even as the indications appear to be that the UK is heading for a so-called ‘soft Brexit', the situation is unpredictable at best. While no one knows what to expect exactly, very few insiders now are anticipating the situation to be positive for British business or anyone based out of there.
But while the country who decided to turn their backs on the European Union are bracing themselves for a hit, the outlook is far sunnier across The Irish Sea. Business analysts in Ireland were quick to predict that Dublin would benefit hugely from the chaos that Brexit would cause. Especially from City firms keen on a mini leave campaign of their own. The Irish capital was quickly labelled as the new ‘Canary Dwarf'.
Dublin has already opened its armsand welcomed the likes of Citigroup, JP Morgan and the Bank of America since the Brexit vote. With more and more financial institutions moving to, or expanding their operation in, Dublin every week.
Head of international financial affairs at the IDA Ireland(the body responsible for foreign investment in Ireland), Kieran Donoghue, says that Brexit has left many companies looking abroad, with Ireland the obvious choice.
He says that the country has attracted 'fifteen to twenty large companies where investment has a Brexit dimension.' He goes on to add that another thirty groups are in the pipeline 'advising us of their intention to invest in Ireland.'
Ken Owens is the leader of Brexit financial services at the consultancy giants Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Based out of Dublin himself, Owens says the number of companies and corporations that will have moved operations over to Ireland purely due to Brexit issues and concerns 'should be well into the hundreds.'
“A number of firms are asking very specific questions as they refine what they want to do in terms of the exact activities and people and roles they want to put into Dublin,” he said.
Owens went on to say that we're witnessing the same trend, with a multitude of business 'in implementation mode regardless of where Brexit ends up.'
Since last June it's believed that anywhere between eighty and a hundred financial services companies and foreign banking entities have contacted the Irish banking regulator. A large percentage of these are US companies eyeing up a European base away from the chaos of a Brexit Britain. Several large law firms have also been in touch - as have many life sciences and tech outfits.
More than 1,300 solicitors from England and Wales have registered for the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland, in a move that the Law Society is describing as 'an influx of Brexit refugees'. A recent survey by Smith & Williamson claims that almost 45% of the top twenty law firms in Dublin have been contacted by British counterparts 'with a view to possible merger, acquisition or strategic representation.'
It looks as though Britain's loss is all set to be Ireland's gain...