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Canadian companies in the U.K. are taking steps to mitigate the potential fall out.Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Canadian companies with operations in Britain are watching the referendum warily and planning for the possibility of Brexit.

"We are paying close attention to what is happening," said Isabelle Adjahi, a spokeswoman for engineering firm WSP Global Inc., which is growing slowly in Britain on the back of public sector and infrastructure contracts. The Montreal-based company warned in its latest earnings report that political uncertainty in the euro zone could bring about headwinds over the next few quarters. It is taking steps to mitigate any impact by diversifying its client base and markets. It had 5,100 employees in Britain as of March 31.

"We are also making sure that we are not overly exposed in certain markets that require foreign and European investment," such as London's high-end property market, Ms. Adjahi said.

Bombardier Inc. is taking an active approach to the referendum question. After receiving a number of queries from employees at its Belfast, Northern Ireland, aerospace site asking the company to outline its position, the plane and train maker circulated a memo supporting the status quo.

Access to integrated European supply chains is critical to the aerospace business, Montreal-based Bombardier said. It said it also benefits significantly from EU investment in research and innovation projects and the learning opportunities such projects afford through collaboration with other European aerospace companies.

"As one of Northern Ireland's largest employers, we strongly believe that our competitiveness and future success is better served if the U.K. remains part of the European Union," spokeswoman Haley Dunne said via e-mail. Bombardier employs about 5,000 people in Belfast.

For Montreal-based information technology and business consultancy firm CGI Group Inc., which employs about 5,500 people in the U.K. as part of its wider European footprint, the U.K.'s membership in the EU is important both for fostering economic stability and innovation, spokesman Lorne Gorber said.

"Guaranteed access to a tariff-free market of 500 million people and more than 30 global trade deals covering 50 countries are significant advantages for a global IT services company," Mr. Gorber said. He said the EU also enables skills mobility, making recruiting workers easier because you can tap into a much broader talent pool.

"We believe it is better for business, jobs and prosperity [if Britain stays in the EU]," he added.

Royal Bank of Canada's chief financial officer Janice Fukakusa said RBC is positioning itself for any outcome. "We think that whatever the change is, it's going to take time, and of course we have looked at all of our contingency plans," she said, noting that RBC has a significant presence in London.

"If something happens with Brexit, a vote to exit, it will take time to do that. So we will have time to make our decisions." She added that it is unlikely the bank would pull out of London entirely in the event of Brexit, "but we won't be using it to passport into Europe, so that's why we have a contingency of having a couple of other banking licences."

With files from reporters David Berman and Paul Waldie

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