BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s prime minister on Tuesday urged British companies wanting to continue trading with the European Union to move to his country after the British vote to quit the bloc.
“They are thinking it is time, today, to go to Belgium and work in Belgium,” Charles Michel told Reuters, citing a poll which he said found one British business in five was thinking of moving out in the wake of last week’s Brexit referendum.
“We are in the heart of Europe,” he added. “We have a business-friendly government. We want to develop the attractivity of our country and there are many opportunities in Belgium to invest and Belgium’s a good hub.”
Belgian officials stress that the government would have much preferred Britain to stay in a bloc in which Belgium is a strong supporter of closer European integration. But if British business was on the move to the continent, they wanted a share.
“If they do, I would prefer if they came to Belgium, Flanders, Wallonia or Brussels and not, for example, the Netherlands,” Michel told Belgian public radio.
By contrast, the president of Belgium’s northern region of Flanders, which exports some 27 billion euros ($30 billion) of goods per year to Britain, called for caution after the Brexit vote.
“We should not antagonize the British,” said Geert Bourgeois, who has pleaded for a soft Brexit in order to limit damage to Flemish exporters.
Belgium is the euro zone’s sixth-largest economy, and one of the world’s most open, with Flemish exports to Britain ranging from textiles to food including fruit and chocolate. The region regularly goes on joint trade missions with the Dutch.
Michel told the radio he did not intend his plan to be provocative, adding: “But I don’t plan to let Belgium pay the bill for Brexit.”
($1 = 0.9046 euros)
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Gareth Jones