Vodacom parent Vodafone, weighing the impact of the UK vote to quit the European Union, said it’ll consider moving its headquarters elsewhere unless the country negotiates continued access to the European Union’s single market and workers.
The mobile operator, which is based in Newbury, England, and has offices in central London, hasn’t decided on the long-term location of its headquarters, and is monitoring the UK’s response to last week’s referendum, it said on Tuesday in an e-mailed statement.
The decision will depend on whether the company retains access to the EU’s “freedom of movement of people, capital and goods”, Vodafone said.
“It remains unclear at this point how many of those positive attributes will remain in place once the process of the UK’s exit from the European Union has been completed,” Vodafone said. “It is therefore not yet possible to draw any firm conclusions regarding the long-term location for the headquarters of the group.”
Vodafone dangled the possibility of a move as business leaders step up efforts to lobby the UK government to strike a business-friendly deal governing the country’s future relationship with the EU. It’s one of the clearest indications yet of the potential economic fallout from the decision, given that Vodafone employs about 13 000 workers in the UK.
Corporate leaders met on Tuesday with UK business secretary Sajid Javid to press their case. Some leaders of the “Leave” campaign have said they want to curb immigration even while maintaining tariff-free access to the other 27 EU nations, but Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said on Tuesday that the UK will not be permitted to “cherry pick” policies in any deal with the EU.
“The biggest issue raised was the need to secure continued access to the single market,” Javid said at a press conference after the meeting, which was attended by officials including Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, and Nicola Mendelsohn, Europe vice-president for Facebook.
“I assured everyone my number one priority will be just that in the negotiations to come. Access can come in many forms. I don’t think we can say the way it works for other countries has to be the way it works for the UK.”
At the meeting, business leaders called on the government to spell out the rights of workers from other EU countries who are currently in the UK. “Leave” campaigners, while calling for curbs on immigration, have generally said those who are already in the UK should be permitted to stay.
“A final issue which was echoed incredibly strongly and a really heartfelt one was the importance of recognising how insecure and scared EU migrants currently working in our businesses feel and how important it is now to give them security and reassurances about their right to stay,” Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said in a call with reporters.
Prime Minister David Cameron has also called an emergency meeting Thursday of his Business Advisory Group, which includes chief executive officers of companies like BP, Whitbread and EasyJet, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Even as Vodafone weighs its future headquarters site, it is already beefing up staffing in some areas outside the UK. The company said it is hiring a handful of employees to bolster its lobbying team in Brussels.
The company, once dominant in the UK mobile phone market, said it now generates 55% of its group earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation in non-UK European markets, while its home country accounts for 11%. Vodafone said in its annual report this month that its UK workforce represented about 12% of its global total. — © 2016 Bloomberg LP