J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon visited the banking giant’s British corporate office in the seaside city of Bournemouth this month to deliver a chilling message to employees:
“As many as 4,000” J.P. Morgan jobs in the United Kingdom — about a quarter of the U.K. workforce — could be cut if Britons vote next week to leave the European Union.
The June 23 referendum on a “Brexit,” or British exit from the 28-member union, will determine if the country severs its close economic and political ties with continental Europe and chart its own course in national security, economic policies and immigration laws.
For American business executives like Dimon, a Brexit would be bad news for U.S. companies that have outsized global business interests, which is why they are lobbying for the U.K. to remain a member. “Today, we can service EU companies here freely, with systems, technology, research, investment banking, sales and trading. We can do it here,” Dimon said. “After a Brexit, we cannot do it all here and we are going to have to start planning for that.”
Brexit proponents argue that the U.K. would fare better in the long run by setting its own economic and political agenda, free from the EU’s regulation-heavy interference and able to pursue its own, more stringent immigration policies.
Analysts in the United States, however, don’t see it that way. They say Britain’s departure from the EU could trigger lasting economic and political problems for U.S. companies. That’s particularly true for banking, since London is currently the financial center for Europe.
For decades, the U.S. has championed a common economic and political bloc in Europe, and any signs of its disintegration with the United State’s largest trading partner is contrary to U.S. interests, said Joao Gomes, a finance professor atWharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “We’re talking about a shock,” Gomes said.
“On trade, they (Britons) hurt themselves. On investment, they hurt themselves. On migration, they hurt themselves,” said Joel Trachtman, professor of international law at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Economists also are unnerved by the timing of a Brexit vote, which comes amid economic sluggishness and high unemployment in EU nations. As a result, a vote for a Brexit could be a drag on consumer demand throughout Europe.
A Brexit also could put a damper on U.S.-Europe trade and investment. Last year, American companies exported about $492 billion worth of goods and services to Europe, according to data from the European Commission. Total U.S. investment in the EU is three times higher than in all of Asia.
The U.S. and the EU are members of the World Trade Organization, and the framework for their trade is set by the international organization. But after a Brexit, the U.K. would be required to adopt new tariff schedules and trade regulations for Europe and the U.S.
Another complication from an exit: ongoing negotiation for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), a treaty seeking to broaden economic cooperation between the U.S. and Europe.
President Obama, a fervent opponent of a Brexit, warned that the U.S. may not be as eager to negotiate a separate trade agreement with the U.K. During a visit to Britain in April, he said Britain would have to go to the “back of the queue” for a trade deal if it votes for a Brexit. “It’s an administrative mess,” Trachtman said.
Some are convinced that “the special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. could override a Brexit’s aftermath. The U.S. could affirm that it would include an independent Britain in any future Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with Europe, said Peter Harrell, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “My position is not that it’s a good thing for Britain. But I think fears that this is bad for the U.S. is overblown,” he said.
Still, having to deal with multiple trade treaties in Europe could prove cumbersome for U.S. companies, said James Moore, managing director of the Business, Society, andPublic Policy Initiative at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. “Companies have put together business models that (rely on) Great Britain as the front door,” he said.
“All of these banks have become very comfortable in utilizing London in context of the EU,” Moore said. “Pulling that from under their feet will create a new scenario for them. And markets will clearly reflect consternation.”
While some say uncertainties regarding the vote are already priced into financial markets, a Brexit could further drive down the euro and the sterling. The rush toward the U.S. dollar would make U.S. exports even more expensive.
Brexit will also have security implications for the U.S., analysts say. The U.K. is a key ally and broker for the U.S. in NATO and the EU on political and security matters. A Brexit would raise concerns about Europe’s commitment to common defense at a time when there’s greater pressure from the U.S. to assume more responsibilities.
And there’s the variable of Russia, which is increasingly assertive in European affairs. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been strategically silent on the referendum. But the Baltic states and Poland are “very nervous,” Wharton’s Gomes said. “There’s already enough friction regarding defense matters. (Brexit) wouldn’t have a direct impact, but it’s another moving piece.”
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