The outcome of last week’s meeting of the highest primary decision-making body of the City of London Corporation, the Court of Common Council, that we are to support the United Kingdom remaining a member of the European Union, has attracted much attention. While a small number of City figures called on us to maintain our political neutrality, with the likes of Peter Cruddas, Lord Lamont and Robert Hiscox voicing such an opinion, and after much internal debate about our position, we have stuck our head above the parapet.
My view is that we, as representatives of the Square Mile and the UK’s financial and professional services sector, cannot remain a silent voice in the most important decision that our country has faced in the last 40 years. We also need to be relevant to our stakeholders in the City.
The research supports this position. Take, for instance, TheCityUK’s research from 2013 which showed that 84 per cent of the leadership of financial services firms wanted to stay in the EU. Take surveys by the Institute of Directors and the manufacturers’ organisation EEF finding that a majority of firms backed staying in the European Union. Take research from Tech London Advocates, a group of 2,000 individuals championing the capital’s tech sector, which saw 87 per cent of this group warning that an EU exit would have a negative impact on London’s digital businesses.
Of course, we are never going to be a united business voice in agreement, but the City of London Corporation is no stranger to taking a position on controversial matters.
Heathrow airport expansion is one example. It’s a deeply divisive subject where the government is split, the current mayor objects and we have both the leading mayoral candidates in opposition to it. However, last year, we came out in support of Heathrow expansion for the good of the City, London and the wider UK.
On the subject of immigration and visas, the City of London Corporation again has taken a view which might not always be in agreement with the government. Our stance is clear – we need to be able to attract highly-skilled workers, regardless of nationality. When I travel to countries like India, I am always asked why it is so problematic to get a visa for the UK and I relay this back to policymakers and air these points in public debate.
The Corporation was clear, though, that we need to be a relevant voice on these issues even if we might not have unanimous support from our stakeholders. On the Brexit debate, we do need groups like City for Britain to voice their views. Its chairman Daniel Hodson said last week that “it is extraordinary that the City of London Corporation should be prejudging the outcome of a full and well informed debate.”
Debate is precisely what we need – not silence. Only then can the people of the UK weigh up the arguments, think carefully about their decision, and tick the box they think is best for our future come 23 June.