- ‘Not yet possible to draw any firm conclusions’ on HQ location
- U.K. businesses start lobbying push over terms of EU divorce
Vodafone Group Plc, weighing the impact of the U.K. 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 U.K.’s response to last week’s referendum, it said 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 U.K.’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 U.K. 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 Britain.
Corporate leaders met Tuesday with U.K. 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 Tuesday that the U.K. 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, chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline Plc, and Nicola Mendelsohn, Europe vice president for Facebook Inc. “I assured everyone my No. 1 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 U.K.”
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 U.K. “Leave” campaigners, while calling for curbs on immigration, have generally said those who are already in the U.K. should be permitted to stay.
“A final issue which was echoed incredibly strongly and a really heartfelt one was the importance of recognizing 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.
Along with Vodafone, several other companies are reportedly considering moving offices out of the U.K. following the vote. EasyJet Plc CEO Carolyn McCall told Channel 4 TV that it “remains to be seen” whether the airline will keep its headquarters at Luton Airport near London. Sky News reported that Visa Inc. might move jobs from London to keep credit-card data from leaving the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron has called an emergency meeting Thursday of his Business Advisory Group, which includes CEOs of companies like BP Plc, Whitbread Plc and EasyJet, according to a person familiar with the situation.
As Vodafone weighs its future headquarters site, it is already beefing up staffing in some areas outside the U.K. The company said it is hiring a handful of employees to bolster its lobbying team in Brussels.
Vodafone rose 1.9 percent to 222.30 pence at 8:30 a.m. in London on Wednesday. The shares are up 2 percent since the June 23 vote.
The company, once dominant in the British mobile-phone market, said it now generates 55 percent of its group earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in non-U.K. European markets, while its home country accounts for 11 percent. Vodafone said in its annual report this month that its U.K. workforce represented about 12 percent of its global total.