Translating for the enemy: Tempting financial services out of post-Brexit UK

PUBLISHED: 10:28 18 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:28 18 July 2017

The skyscrapers of La Defense business district in Paris, France.

The skyscrapers of La Defense business district in Paris, France.

PA Archive/PA Images

For some in Europe Brexit offers an opportunity to prize business away from London and the UK.

Vultures don’t always circle their next meal. Some of them get the plane straight to Heathrow. Others don’t have to leave the ground, arriving at St Pancras on the Eurostar from Paris or Brussels.

Delegates from cities and towns in the rest of the European Union have been swooping into the UK like birds of prey to sit in small meeting rooms for months now. You might have seen them. Fresh haircuts, open arms at the ready and slightly wrong English.

Think speed dating but with the odd grammatical error and a short PowerPoint presentation and you’re not far off.

You won’t be surprised when you see them. For a start, they’d have told you about their arrival in advance. Usually in nice glossy pamphlets. “Known for its excellent transport links,” they boast, “[Name of city] offers a great cultural scene and is already home to [names of three or four multi-nationals]”.

I know this, because working as a translator in Germany, I help write them. The continent’s calling and I’m the one tasked with transferring their words from German into the Queen’s English.

The vultures who pay me have just one goal. To lure British based financial service businesses and insurers out of a post-Brexit UK helping them find a home in their towns and cities. And not just in the capitals, either. The distant promise of an economic boost is being heard in cities like Cologne, Liège and Utrecht. Everyone wants a piece of the action.

It’s over here, after all, where companies currently based in Britain could continue to enjoy the benefits of “passporting”. In other words, the right to operate anywhere in the European Economic Area (EEA) without needing further authorisation to operate in each individual country. It’s that simple.

The Germans are coming. And the Dutch. And the Belgians.

Personally, it’s a quandary. Who would want fellow countrymen and women to suffer unemployment, or to feel the squeeze? But a job’s a job and these texts are hard work, trying to make them take the form of a sea siren, seductively urging businesses to jump a sinking ship.

And jumping ship they are.

The French didn’t hang about with one of the first efforts. “Tired of fog? Try the frogs!” urged one poster campaign calling on businesses to up sticks in favour of Paris’ La Défense district.

It’s working. In the insurance sector alone Lloyds of London, Hiscox, Global Aerospace, AIG and FM Global (there are more) have already announced plans to open subsidiaries in EU countries – so far mostly Luxembourg. Admittedly, it doesn’t automatically mean thousands of people in the UK will be made redundant, but surely even the impossibly optimistic of rabid hard Brexiteers couldn’t sugar coat this. In financial centres such as Frankfurt there’s speculation that these are just the first firms to take action with the trickle soon becoming a torrent.

The vultures continue to look on. Waiting to dive.

Embarrassingly for us Brits over here, despite hardy words from London Mayor Sadiq Kahn (“London is still open for business”), Brexit is made to look like the revenge of the daft in the continental press. Journalists are no longer bemused by Britain’s decision. Instead they’re scathing, reporting without mercy. In a recent article about independence campaigners in California, Germany’s best selling broadsheet the Süddeutsche Zeitung quipped, “if the British weren’t making such a pig’s ear of their Brexit, they’d likely call the movement Calexit”. Ouch. Even the name is seen as poisonous suicide-by-branding.

So, as this drags on there will be more pamphlets to translate. More presentations to help write. More gumpf about how great the theatre scene is in any given city or town. But don’t blame me. Don’t blame those in rest of the EU, either. As Paul Weller sang, “the public gets what the public wants”.

It’s no wonder the vultures have Britain’s financial services sector in their targets. The vultures can see a few City of London wildebeests ready to be picked off and plundered. Maybe they’re wrong, but from over here, the UK is starting to look very vulnerable.

Get ready for a pamphlet. And remember, the transport links are great and the cultural scene is thriving.

Gavin Fearnley is a journalist and translator who lives in Cologne

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