The chancellor of the Exchequer and the governor of the Bank of England joined leading City figures at the Mansion House last week for the annual Bankers’ Dinner. The mood was of course very different to previous years after the shocking and horrific death, earlier that day, of the MP Jo Cox.
The chancellor, the governor and I all made brief remarks before the dinner, paying tribute to a devoted mother and public servant whose life had been taken in shocking fashion.
I never met Jo. But for many years she worked tirelessly, dedicating herself to others in her role as head of humanitarian campaigning for Oxfam and, more recently, in the House of Commons. She was committed to making things better for other people.
We should remember that an attack on a Member of Parliament is not an attack on any one side. It is an attack on public service itself – and, by extension, on the whole of society.
I made this point at the dinner and there was wide agreement in the room.
With referendum campaigning halted as a mark of respect, the planned speeches were no longer appropriate. But now, with less than a week until Britain goes to the polls, there are two points from my original speech that I want to make.
The first is that, in almost all of the 19 countries I have visited as lord mayor, I have been asked one question: why even contemplate Brexit? Why risk surrendering our place at the top table of European decision-making? Our allies, including Presidents or Prime Ministers from the USA, India, Japan, China, Canada, Australia and more, are united: our EU membership makes the world a more prosperous and safer place. This view is shared by international organisations like the OECD and the IMF.
The second point is on the role of millennials – those born after 1980 – of which there are around 150,000 in the Square Mile.
My view is that millennials are seriously under-represented in the EU debate. They are the tech companies, the start-ups and the entrepreneurs who are the employers of tomorrow, and they indicate overwhelmingly that they need the Single Market to succeed.
Will we really deny young people the interconnectedness, the freedom, on which modern economies survive – and which they themselves are best able to exploit? Because if we do, then we gamble with the future prosperity and innovation that we’re relying on them to produce.
So what is the City’s role? We have a responsibility, to act, to lead, to reject unnecessary risk-taking, and to keep business and communities on a sustainable footing.
With that in mind, and as the head of the City Corporation, I strongly believe that the UK is better off inside the EU.
But whatever the decision of the British public, no matter how heated the debate, we have to go back to working together, for the common good.
The chancellor’s words before the dinner resonated with me and many others in the room: “freedom, liberty and justice will prevail over the hate that killed Jo”. The City stands for precisely these values.