Spanish cities woo London-based firms in wake of Brexit

The Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona are positioning themselves to tempt London-based firms to relocate in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Spanish cities woo London-based firms in wake of Brexit
Madrid wants to be Europe's new financial centre Photo: Barcex / Flickr

Both Madrid and Barcelona say they are considering introducing measures such as tax breaks to attract financial corporations looking for a base within the European Union following the referendum result last month.

Madrid’s regional government has officially launched a bid to become the “new financial centre of the European Union” and said it was preparing to send delegations to the City of London in September.

Cristina Cifuentes, the president of the Madrid regional government, said the goal was to attract established firms such as banks as well as start-ups, adding that the sort of companies the Spanish capital will target are in the technology, financial, automotive, aerospace and biotech sectors.

This week will see the launch of campaign buses in London with the slogan: “London whatever happens, Madrid will be there for you”.

Cifuentes said: “Madrid is the perfect place to invest because it is one of the most important financial centres in the world and a centre of technology and innovation.”

“There are investors right now in Britain looking for another city to establish themselves: that city is Madrid.”

Kian Abouhossein, of JP Morgan said Madrid could well prove a leading contender, according to a report in Business Insider. 

In a note sent to clients last week the banking analyst said Madrid came out on top both for cost and supply when it comes to office rents and capacity in different EU cities.

“In terms of markets with high availability and high oncoming supply, Madrid places first, followed by Frankfurt and Paris,” he wrote.

“In terms of prime rental levels, Madrid is the cheapest (€27/sqm/month) although brokers note there is a lack of Grade A office space, followed by Frankfurt (€40/sqm/month) and Paris (€67/sqm/month).”

Madrid is also seeking to become the new home to the London-based European Banking Authority, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Meanwhile Barcelona was keen to place itself in the running.

Pere Aragonès, the regional economy minister, said Barcelona should follow the Irish government, which “is being offered as a platform” for multinational firms who want to leave UK and remain in the EU while the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, ​​Jaume Collboni, who is in charge of Enterprise, Culture and Innovation told Cope radio that Barcelona was preparing a strategy to woo investors from London.

Already boasting a thriving start-up scene, the city wants to capitalize on its reputation as a technology and telecoms hub, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria said Spain would compete to host the European Banking Authority, the euro zone banking regulator, and the European Medicines Agency, which oversees the introduction of new medicines across the region.

“Both are of great interest to Spain and we will work on the possibility that at least one of them will be located on Spanish territory,” she said.

Winning the relocation of any of these key institutions would likely encourage private institutions to follow.

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.