As Brexit looms, London and Berlin promote closer business ties

Reuters London, UK Mar 04, 2019, 10.07 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Along with other European cities, Berlin is jostling for a piece of London's financial technology industry and has stepped up efforts to promote the German capital as an affordable and creative alternative to other centres.

Less than a month before Britain is due to leave the European Union, London and Berlin signed a partnership deal on Monday (March 4) aimed at deepening their business ties, arguing that regardless of Brexit "the 21st century belongs to cities".

Along with other European cities, Berlin is jostling for a piece of London's financial technology industry and has stepped up efforts to promote the German capital as an affordable and creative alternative to other centres.

But Monday's agreement, signed by the two cities' economic development agencies, aims to promote investment both by British companies in Berlin and German companies in London.

"Brexit or no Brexit, we want to show the world that London is open for business, talent and investment from across the world," said Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for business.

The United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29 but still has no deal in place governing its exit terms, after lawmakers voted in January to reject an agreement Prime Minister Theresa May reached last year with the bloc.

Agrawal said that in all scenarios Brexit was not good for the UK, but added that independent research had shown the British capital would prove more resilient than other regions to Brexit, which Londoners opposed in Britain's 2016 referendum.

He described London and Berlin as like-minded. Both are hubs for technology companies, which the development agencies pledged to support with Monday's deal.

"Of course we are concerned about Brexit," said Knut Hechtfischer, co-founder of Ubitricity, a German firm founded in 2008 that provides charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. He helped promote the Berlin-London partnership.

The founders of Ubitricity had a strikingly simple idea which could end one of the main drawbacks of electric cars especially in large cities, the lack of enough spaces to charge up the vehicles, by putting charging sockets on lamp posts. At the end of 2018 Ubitricity together with its partner, Siemens installed the first charging points in street lights in London.

Hechtfischer said his company was concerned about Brexit, but London would remain an important market regardless of its outcome. "The transformation to electric mobility, the demand for charging infrastructure, which results from it and the need for clean air in inner cities, all these things are universal topics, which have nothing to do with the Brexit," he said, adding: ": "London will still be London whatever politicians decide in March or later. It will be an exciting city it is and it will also be an interesting market for us."