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Wed 19 Feb 2020 01:34 PM

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No impact on Middle East trade from Brexit, says UK trade commissioner

There are around 100,000 Brits living in the UAE and about 5,000 British companies registered in the country

No impact on Middle East trade from Brexit, says UK trade commissioner

Simon Penney, HM Trade Commissioner for the Middle East.

Uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations in 2019, which ultimately cost former UK Prime Minister Theresa May her job, had no negative impact on trade between Great Britain and the UAE, according to Simon Penney, HM Trade Commissioner for the Middle East.

Since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, it took two prime ministers, 1,274 days, three deadline extensions and two general elections before an exit deal was considered acceptable by the UK Parliament.

Trade figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics show that in Q3 2016, the period immediately after the Brexit referendum, trade to the UAE reached $3.3bn. That compares to the most recent stats from Q3 2019, which showed trade had increased to $3.5bn for that corresponding period.

Penney said: “When people say how Brexit has impacted trade in this region, on the contrary.

“Brexit hasn’t in any way (negatively) impacted here. In fact, it’s more a curious interest in Brexit when you talk to people in these parts.”

There are around 100,000 Brits living in the UAE and about 5,000 British companies registered here, while the UK-UAE corridor is the second largest outside of the EU.

The UK is currently in a period of grace as it seeks to negotiate trade deals with the European Union before the official parting of ways on December 31.

William Russell, Lord Mayor of London, a strong advocate of fintech and green finance, both huge sectors in the Middle East, said he is already witnessing huge interest in investing in London and other major cities in the UK, since Boris Johnson was sworn in as PM in December.

“The clarity of the election, don’t underestimate how that has changed the mindset of a lot of people who have held back a bit because of the uncertainty of Brexit,” he told Arabian Business. “We can sit here and say it wasn’t helpful, but now, five years of this government, people are looking beyond December 2020 and the whole negotiation for the year, they’re thinking this is a good time to get into the UK.”

Russell also said Britain will continue to be popular among foreign students, despite the proposed introduction of a new points-based immigration system that ends the free movement of people and prioritises those with high-skilled jobs, which is due to be announced by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday.

Based on figures from the Office for National Statistics, Saudi Arabia saw a 12 percent rise in visas granted in 2019, bringing the total to 9,123.

And Russell, who is also Rector of the City of London University, expects this to continue, particularly with the proliferation of British universities operating in the region and educational links between the two countries.

He said: “Recently I was shaking hands with 530 graduates at their graduation ceremony and the diversity and inclusion and nationalities of people in the room, tells you all you need to know about British education and what’s happening, if you look at Manchester and Birmingham and Leeds, the third largest university in the UK, business is linking in with universities much closer than ever before. That’s in order to retain the talent and that’s where here it’s bringing the talent back, but also having universities here and making sure they can get experience in the UK and come back here.

“In ten years’ time that relationship with the UK is critical as they may be a CEO of a major business here and say, let’s go to the UK as I was at university there.”

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