Holyrood’s European and External Relations Committee, taking the highly-unusual step of meeting during Holyrood’s summer recess, has been told by Hugh Chater, director of banking at Edinburgh-based challenger bank Virgin Money, that Scotland could provide a “safe harbour” for financial institutions should it be able to retain access to the single market after the UK leaves the EU.
Such a scenario would mean the maintaining of passporting; the process which allows institutions to use their UK financial licences to trade in the EU.
Mr Chater told MSPs:
“Where I think there may be an opportunity is a thriving financial services sector that employs close to 100,000 people. Depending on where Scotland’s relationship with the EU lands, there may well be an opportunity to offer that as a kind of relocation safe harbour for some institutions that are worried about the removal of passporting from the UK.”
Committee convener Joan McAlpine asked:
“So, what you’re saying is that if Scotland was able to maintain its access to the single market, then that would give us an advantage?”
Mr Chater replied:
“I do think that is a very credible view.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is currently exploring options to protect Scotland’s place in Europe, including the prospect of a second independence referendum.
She said key interests that must be protected include free movement of labour, access to the single market and a say in its rules.
Industry leaders pointed out the need to address the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote and the lack of clarity on the UK’s negotiating position.