Consumer group Unilever is set to deliver a significant Brexit snub to Theresa May by choosing the Netherlands as its base over the UK.
British officials, including business secretary Greg Clark, have been in regular contact with Unilever, vying with the Dutch to secure a major coup.
But one UK official told the Financial Times that it was not looking good: “It wouldn’t be a great surprise if it (a move to Holland) happened.”
Another factor that could swing a decision towards the Netherlands is that Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was a leading member of Unilever’s human resources team in the past.
Unilever has a dual legal structure involving two parent companies, headquarters in Rotterdam and London, and holds two annual meetings and has two separately listed companies.
Having a single base in only one legal and tax jurisdiction will result in a single stock market quote, making it much easier to issue new shares or carry out share-based acquisitions.
The company was subject to a $143bn takeover bid from Kraft Heinz last year and has decided to simplify its structure.
It exports about a third of the products it makes in the UK – valued at about €1bn (£875m) – and talks with the government are also thought to centre on potential trade borders and tariffs in the wake of Brexit.
It employs 169,000 people worldwide, with 7,500 jobs based in the UK and 3,000 in Holland.
British officials are worried what impact a move to Rotterdam will have on jobs here.
Paul Polman, Unilever’s chief executive, told the FT last year that “political turbulence” was affecting any decision on where to base the company, adding: “The emotions of the moment are really the issue.”
That decision is now likely to be made at a board meeting in March.
Brexit has been weighing heavy on many sectors, including finance and manufacturing, as companies and agencies balance whether to move jobs or HQs to Europe or stick with the UK.
Much will ultimately depend on what sort of deal can be thrashed out and what restrictions to trade may be in place after Britain finally severs ties – likely to be after a two year transition period in 2020.