Amid the ongoing debate about the Irish border and the Brexit backstop, it would be easy to lose sight of the City’s flourishing links across the Irish Sea.
Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share a long history with the Square Mile. These ties have grown in recent years as the City Corporation has worked closely together with our counterparts in Belfast and Dublin in the spirit of collaboration, not competition.
Later this week I am travelling to Dublin to speak at the European Financial Forum, alongside senior industry figures and Irish policymakers.
This comes on the back of a visit to Derry-Londonderry earlier this month and a reception at Guildhall with Belfast City Council last week.
The Guildhall event was to celebrate the approval of the Belfast Region City Deal – an investment strategy designed to improve economic prospects across innovation and tech, tourism, infrastructure, and skills. The City can play a role in ensuring that this programme is a success.
Belfast is, in fact, a key partner for the City Corporation in our regional strategy, which aims to deliver deeper relationships and more tangible results between London and the country’s major financial and related professional centres.
Over 33,000 people already work in financial and professional services across Belfast. This is reflected in the presence of City firms: Deloitte chose Northern Ireland for its UK data analytics hub, and the first Google Innovation Lab in Europe opened in Belfast in a partnership with PwC.
It is also home to an increasingly innovative cluster of cyber security firms, ranking number one in the world for international investment in this sub-sector.
As for Dublin, much of the focus since the referendum has been on City firms relocating some operations and jobs away from London as part of their contingency planning for Brexit.
We should not forget that this healthy competition is also underpinned by mutually beneficial and interdependent trade. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that UK financial services imports from Ireland stood at £600m in 2017, while exports totalled £1.5bn.
We want these links to continue going from strength to strength in years to come. That is why the City Corporation is pressing the UK government hard for a pragmatic, business-friendly, withdrawal agreement – which provides for a legally-binding transition period.
Businesses and politicians on both sides of the Irish border are keen to find a solution that puts an end to the current uncertainty and facilitates the free flow of trade, services, and people – as many cross the border regularly, as part of their normal routine, every day.
Theresa May visited Belfast, Brussels and Dublin last week to try to make progress on these important issues and break the current Brexit impasse. Time is running short, with less than 50 days to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union.
Despite this short-term uncertainty, however, I am confident that the City’s economic and cultural ties with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will continue to thrive long after Brexit.