Former head of Downing Street policy: City is a "high priority" in government's Brexit strategy

Oliver Gill
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John Godfrey, the former head of Downing Street's policy unit, didn't think the PM was "robotic" (Source: Getty)

The City is a “high priority” in the government’s Brexit strategy, according to a recently departed member of Theresa May’s adviser inner circle.

John Godfrey, who quit as the head of Downing Street’s policy unit in June, said ministers were acutely aware of the importance of Britain’s financial services sector when entering into negotiations.

“I think it [the City] is being given a pretty high priority,” Godfrey, a 30-year financial services veteran, told City A.M..

“Everybody knows the value of the City in terms of growth and GDP and not least taxes paid, so it is high on the list. But it is not the only thing on the list."

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Godfrey was one of five senior advisers to leave May’s top team this summer after the Tories disappointed in June’s General Election.

He today returned to Legal & General as corporate affairs director, but refused to criticise the PM.

“Her terrific strength is as an administrator, someone who is all over the detail of things and takes decisions based very much on the facts and the evidence. It’s a huge strength,” he said.

To be honest that is more of a strength in her case than the retail soundbite, ‘campaigny’ stuff. Which I don’t think makes her robotic, it probably makes her more effective. But politics is a funny business.

Godfrey said full Brexit clarity would “emerge over time”.

“One wouldn’t expect too much at the moment. There is a huge body of information the government has assembled on what different sectors require out of this.”

Read more: Repeal Bill gives "certainty and clarity" for businesses over Brexit

ERM and the internet browser

Meanwhile, he also questioned whether Brexit would have as much of an impact on the UK as has been feared.

The other thing about Brexit: in 1992 everyone in the political world was obsessed with the exchange-rate mechanism. That was where all the heat was. That was oddly enough the same time the internet browser was being invented.

And you look back it 25 years on and you think: ‘Which of those things had a bigger long-term impact?’ We should not forget that there are huge global growth drivers and societal changes going on, quite regardless of the Brexit process.

He continued: “Brexit might slow growth briefly as we renegotiate trade deals, but if we can get things right with dealing with an ageing population, dealing with housing shortages, dealing with lack of investment and hence lack of productivity improvement and hence technology, we’ll have dealt with some of the bigger things at the same time.”

Prior to his stint in Downing Street Godfrey spent 10 years heading up group communications at L&G and was looking forward to returning to more comfortable surroundings.

He said:

Working right at the heart of government is jolly hard work. It is the hardest work I’ve done in 30 years of professional life. This is in a sense a retreat to something that is more like a comfort zone.

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