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UK companies may wish to relocate—but will EU countries want them?

With the U.K. set to leave the European Union (EU) in the next few years, some businesses may wish to move elsewhere. But can they bet on a warm welcome and what about the logistical and legal challenges?

"Many (countries) may not be keen to take on large, complex companies," Ian Hunter, a lawyer advising on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) at City law firm Linklaters, said at a Brexit seminar in London Thursday.

Frédéric Soreau | Getty Images

Economists and pro-remain campaigners warned ahead of the vote on June 23 that major European banks might swap London headquarters for Dublin, Frankfurt or Luxembourg if the U.K. quit the EU.

HSBC and Barclays, two of the U.K.'s biggest banks, have said they will remain in London, but ahead of the vote, the latter did say it might move up to 1,000 jobs to Paris, according to media reports.

Hunter said Dublin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam might appeal to companies looking to refocus operations in major cities in EU countries with well-educated, English-speaking workforces and attractive tax arrangements for both corporate entities and individuals.

"But they don't want to have to move again if there is an EU problem in these countries (which then look to leave the bloc) as well," he said.

To avoid this, companies might instead look to do cross-border mergers with other businesses in EU countries. "They might want to do that soon," Hunter said, but added that this option had not proved popular with companies in the past.

Alternatively, U.K.-registered companies might look to covert to mainland-European ones, he said.

"Those in markets benefiting from the (EU) single market, may look around (at various options)," Hunter said.

Moving from London could cost banks $66.5M

'Quick' Brexit timeline

At the same seminar, HSBC Chief U.K. Economist Simon Wells suggested the first round of negotiations between the U.K. and the EU on Brexit would take a "quick" two years.

"I'm optimistic the U.K. will avoid recession, although we are certainly going to have a difficult couple of quarters," he said.

An official first estimate for second-quarter growth suggested the U.K. economy expanded by a better-than-expected 0.6 percent quarter-on-quarter, but covered only one week of the time period after the Brexit vote.

"It looks like the economy at best is going to slow to stagnation in the second half of the year," Wells said.

"It is difficult to be optimistic under such uncertainty," he later added.

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