Having an arch Brexiteer as the new leader of your adopted country is, in theory, not hugely encouraging if you’re a French banker in London and you’re worried about your post-Brexit future. But what do French expats really think about the UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson? We spoke to two of them to gauge the mood of London’s large French banker community.
“From a personal financial point of view, expats’ immediate priority is to follow the consequences of Boris’ appointment on the financial markets, especially the British pound, which is in the line of fire,” says one London-based French trader, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It's simple: if the pound rises thanks to Boris, French expats will love him even if some of them think he’s otherwise completely crazy”.
In other words, for many expats, pay is all that matters. If the pound rises because of a stable Brexit outcome, French bankers will have more money to spend back home.
The trader also told us that French expat bankers in London are generally dealing with the ups and downs of Brexit with a stiff upper lip. The arrival of Johnson hasn’t destabilized them, because they’ve become so accustomed to the many reversals related to Brexit over the past three years: from successive postponements of the Brexit deadline, to the growing prospect of a no-deal.
“If you believe what the media says, Brexit is the equivalent of the end of the world for the UK and especially for the supremacy of London. Will the situation be complicated? Yes, definitely. There will be hard times to go through, but thinking that London isn’t going to recover from this is absolutely ridiculous,” says the trader.
Another French finance professional, who works for an investment bank in London, says he has mixed feelings about Johnson. “Boris is undeniably pro-business and pro-City, but his anti-immigration vision could cause a general outcry among bankers accustomed to recruiting the best talent in Europe,” says the banker. “If good job opportunities open up on the Continent, expat finance professionals could take the opportunity to flee London, which is an expensive and highly competitive city. London’s position as a finance centre won’t end overnight, but its dynamism is in jeopardy,” he adds.
The investment banker says the French finance community in London is playing close attention to the “tone” of what Johnson says about Brexit, banking and immigration in the coming weeks. “He’s realized his childhood dream of becoming Prime Minister, but he faces a very divided country,” says the banker.
French bankers might be slightly confused with Johnson’s tone today. The Prime Minister assured parliament that EU citizens like them can stay on in the UK after Brexit, but his spokesman subsequently said there will be no new legislation to enforce their rights, or any change to existing policy.
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