DAVOS (AFP) - Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday (Jan 19) told the world's elite that Britain would be open for business despite Brexit, but EU leaders warned of challenges ahead and banks said they would have to shift jobs.
Mrs May sought to reassure guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Brexit did not signal a retreat into protectionism, as a slew of banks revealed plans to relocate staff following her announcement on Tuesday that Britain would leave the single market.
"The United Kingdom - a country that has so often been at the forefront of economic and social change - will step up to a new leadership role as the strongest and most forceful advocate for business, free markets and free trade anywhere in the world," the Prime Minister told a packed hall.
Britain will "seek the freedom to strike new trade deals with old friends and new allies right around the world", she added, revealing her government had already started discussions on possible deals with Australia, New Zealand and India.
Brexit was widely interpreted as a rebellion against globalisation with voters citing immigration and jobs lost to low-wage economies as major factors in their decision to vote out.
Mrs May admitted that globalisation "can make people fearful" and said that governments needed to be more involved to make sure it "delivered for all of the people in our respective countries". Despite her pitch that Britain was "open for business", several major banks have announced plans to relocate staff from London's major financial hub as the country leaves the single market.
JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon said Thursday there "will be more job movement than we hoped for". HSBC said staff generating about 20 per cent of London revenue may move to Paris while UBS said it "will definitely have to move" some staff from London.
Goldman Sachs was reported to be halving its London staff to 3,000 and Lloyds was reported to be considering Frankfurt as a new base.
JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said it "looks like there will be more job movement" than the 4,000 the bank had previously estimated.
May insisted that she would seek "an ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the European Union", but other EU leaders warned that reaching such a deal would be a daunting task.
Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, said Britain "cannot have all the advantages of being a member of the club when you are out of the club".
Guy Verhofstadt, the EU parliament chief negotiator, wrote in the Guardian on Thursday that "the days of UK cherry-picking... are over".
"It is an illusion to suggest that the UK will be permitted to leave the EU but then be free to opt back into the best parts of the European project," he said.
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde reportedly said there would be a lot of "pain" in negotiations and that a final deal would "not be as good" as EU membership.