Don’t ignore the City in the great Brexit debate

 
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Businesses want to be heard in the debate over the EU referendum (Source: Getty)

Although there is much we don’t yet know about the forthcoming referendum of Britain’s membership of the EU (such as when the vote will take place and what the terms will look like), we do now have some clarity on the issue of how much freedom the PM intends to give his own ministers to campaign for Brexit.

In a letter sent to his cabinet colleagues yesterday, David Cameron makes it clear that ministers who wish to speak out against British membership of the EU may not do so until after the renegotiation process has concluded.

Furthermore, when that time comes, pro-Brexit ministers will be denied government or civil service support with speeches and research.

Cameron’s plan essentially subverts the longstanding principle of collective responsibility, but the alternative would have been resignations and a bloody feud. We’ll see how long the peace lasts once the campaign gets underway.

For now, there’s another group whose voices could be just as important as the politicians. A survey out yesterday found that the vast majority of business leaders feel that their views must be heard during the debate.

Both campaigns view the business voice as crucial. The Remain team need the voice of Britain’s employers to highlight what they see as the risks of Brexit. The Leave camp knows that they can’t afford to allow the impression that business is united on the issue. Indeed, it certainly isn’t.

Here in the City, a small but interesting chorus of voices is beginning to put flesh on the bones of the idea that Britain could go it alone. Paul Lynam of Secure Trust Bank has outlined the potential advantage such a move could give challenger banks and Mark Astaire, vice chair of investment banking at Barclays, told MPs last week that the City could thrive outside the EU.

It would be disingenuous to present either of these two as endorsing the campaign to leave, but their nuanced and expert opinion will be a gift to campaigners who need to present a credible, optimistic vision of what life outside the EU would look like.

While the politicians thrash out a deal on who can say what and when, keep an eye open for City figures prepared to challenge the consensus. There are more of them out there than you think.

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