Leaving single market would harm Northern Ireland's financial services sector, insists City minister
Exiting the single market would severely weaken the growing financial services sector, City Minister Harriet Baldwin has told a UK Trade and Industry event in Belfast.
Ms Baldwin warned that staying within the EU is the best deal for the sector in Northern Ireland.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury delivered the stark 'this is as good as it gets' message as she cautioned that jobs in the city's developing financial hub would be threatened.
The minister dispelled the idea in her keynote address that leaving the EU would only pose a problem for the City in London, without affecting places like Belfast. Afterwards she told the Belfast Telegraph: "All trade arrangements with the EU are worth being a member of the single market, specifically for the financial service sector.
"It's only by being a member of the EU that you have the passport to sell financial services across the EU with its customer base of 500 million people, so any trade deal is going to be a worse trade deal than the one we have now.
"If we evoke article 50 - which is the only way to leave the EU - then it means that it is the other 27 countries who decide, and the UK will have no say in what the agreement is.
"We know that we will not be offered a better deal than the one that we have now."
She argued that the UK has been the most successful country in Europe in attracting foreign direct investment worth £150m over the last 10 years.
"In financial services, half of the worldwide firms which have based themselves in the UK say that its the access to the EU market that has been important," Ms Baldwin added.
"It's an incredibly important part of the offer that we have for foreign investors. We are a great country to invest in anyway, and that being part of the single part, being part of the EU, really adds to that attractiveness."
Her view was supported by representatives of Citibank, the US financial institution which employs 2,000 people at two bases in the Titanic Quarter.
James Bardrick, vice chair of Citi, said: "We operate in the UK, not only as the UK is a global financial centre, but also because the UK is for many of our customers and our clients an entry point into the wider European market.
"So Citi is in the UK as much for the EU as the UK is an important market as well."
Citi is one of several financial services companies, along with the Allstate Corp, First Derivatives and Liberty Mutual who employ some of the 21,000 people working in financial services in Northern Ireland, with a further 15,000 in related professional services.
Citi plans to employ 2,500 employees earning upwards of £25,000 by 2017.
But its Belfast managing director Leigh Meyer stressed that he did not believe his employees were too worried about Brexit. "We have an extremely strong presence here in Belfast and our recent strategy in how we view the UK reinforces the importance of Belfast," he said.