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Banks pledge to do what they can for EU staff after Brexit

By Ben Woods

Santander has moved to reassure around 800 European staff whose working rights hang in the balance following the Brexit vote.

The banking giant - which has around 30 branches in Northern Ireland - said about 4% of its UK staff are Europeans who have come to work in Britain from across the EU.

A spokesman for Santander said: "Like Lloyds Banking Group, we will support these individuals and do whatever we can to help, but we are awaiting clarification on any changes to EU workers' rights in the UK."

The lender, which employs 20,000 people in the UK, is among a number of financial heavyweights urgently awaiting clarification on how Brexit negotiations will impact the rights of EU nationals living and working in Britain.

The comments come after Lloyds Banking Group said it was looking at ways to help more than 3,000 staff stay in the UK if the referendum result means their working rights are removed.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she wants to protect the rights of European nationals working in the UK, but will only do so if British citizens are offered the same guarantees across the EU.

But the issue remains clouded in uncertainty until Britain decides whether or not to remain part of the single market.

Barclays declined to reveal what proportion of its staff are EU nationals working in the UK, but said it would support workers impacted by the negotiations as much as it could.

Royal Bank of Scotland was also unable to provide a breakdown. However, the bank's chief executive, Ross McEwan, previously wrote to staff stating that one of the UK's biggest strengths was "its openness to the rest of the world, and the people of it".

"As a major employer and backer of the economy we have a duty to ensure that we reflect that," he said.

The financial sector is also awaiting clarity on whether Britain will continue to have access to the bank passporting system once Article 50, activating the UK withdrawal from the EU, is triggered.

Banks and financial firms wanting to trade with a country in the European Economic Area must apply for a passport, which allows them to sell their products to any country within the EEA.

A report released by Boston Consulting Group after the referendum result said up to 80,000 jobs could be shifted out of London and into rival financial centres across Europe, as banks look to maintain close trading ties with the EU following the Brexit vote.

Meanwhile, just last month it was revealed there are fears First Trust could shut branches across Northern Ireland as part of a review of its banking operations here. An internal bank memo says it will "assess and determine the optimal branch footprint" for its business here.

And the Financial Services Union (FSU) says it is "concerned about the implications the review will have for staff, customers and branches".

First Trust has cut its branch numbers to 30 across Northern Ireland, and reduced its workforce from around 1,200 to 700.

And last month Bank of Ireland revealed it's shutting eight locations across Northern Ireland - almost a quarter of its 36 branches. The recent closure of the Belleek branch in Co Fermanagh was also branded a "blow" to the local community, as it was the last bank branch open in the village.

Bank of Ireland said that the closures will happen on a "phased basis commencing late autumn 2016".

Belfast Telegraph