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Dutch say 250 firms interested in Brexit move

Sony will shift its European headquarters from Britain to the Netherlands to avoid Brexit-related customs issues, but operations at its current UK company will remain unchanged, a company spokesman said. (AFP Photo/Kazuhiro NOGI)

Dutch officials are in contact with more than 250 companies about a possible post-Brexit move, the government said Wednesday, after Sony revealed it would shift its base to the Netherlands.

The Dutch government will announce a final figure in February but "every new arrival of a business, big or small, is a success," Michiel Bakhuizen, a spokesman for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, told AFP.

Japanese electronics giant Sony is following Panasonic in moving its European headquarters across the North Sea to the Netherlands ahead of Britain's scheduled departure from the EU in March.

While Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a recent visit by Japanese premier Shinzo Abe that he "doesn't see Brexit as a business opportunity", the Netherlands has still pushed hard to win post-Brexit investment.

Via the investment agency, the Dutch government is "in contact with more than 250 interested in an eventual move to the Netherlands because of Brexit", Bakhuizen said.

"The number of businesses we are in contact with for a possible arrival is growing. At the start of 2017 it was 80, at the start of 2018 150, and now it's more than 250," he added.

"This increase will continue and it's not strange, because there is great uncertainty at the moment in Britain. And if there is one thing that's bad for business, it's uncertainty."

The spokesman said he would not comment on "individual" cases like Sony, but added that the Netherlands welcomed any such decision.

"In mid-February we will announce the number of companies that have left the United Kingdom for the Netherlands because of Brexit," he added.

Asked whether Abe's visit had helped with the Sony move, the spokesman said that "it's certain that these political and diplomatic moments help."

However Rutte warned in a press conference with Abe that any extra investments would be offset by the overall "negative impact" of Brexit, particularly if Britain crashes out without a deal with the EU.

Dutch officials said this week they are preparing for the "blue sea of uncertainty" that a no-deal Brexit would create.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that "we have started early with our preparations, but of course it has become more intensive because of a possible no-deal Brexit."