Two-thirds of City of London Corporation councillors have voted down a motion to back a second Brexit referendum as the leave deadline looms.
It came as dozens of financial services institutions and billions of pounds in investment could move from the City to Frankfurt, as companies seek stability ahead of uncertainty over the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union.
City policy chief Catherine McGuinness urged members of the Corporation – which governs the United Kingdom’s key financial district – not to support Sir Mark Boleat’s motion this month.
She argued councillors should represent the interests of the City and residents, but adopt a neutral political position.
Sir Mark’s motion said as the March deadline moved closer, it seemed ever-more likely Parliament would fail to strike a deal for Britain to leave the EU in time.
He called upon the court to back another referendum for the British public, writing that while the financial services sector was equipped to handle Brexit, the impact of a no-deal scenario would be felt by ordinary Britons, and affect London’s economy.
He told the court the Brexit campaign had been “seriously flawed”, and accused a “small group of people” of jockeying the issue on to the top of the national agenda for their own ends.
“I don’t blame the public for the position we’re in – I blame the politicians,” he told the court, saying it had left Britain divided into “unpleasant” and “tribal” stances.
Cllr McGuinness said while she respected his views, there was “no groundswell from the sector” asking for the Corporation to call for a second referendum.
She said the Corporation spoke out on Brexit “on the basis of pragmatism, not politics”.
“I fear if this motion is passed, our credibility will be diminished… our voice will be stronger if we are not viewed as prejudiced,” she added. The debate ran over time as members of the court shared their views.
Cllr Chris Hayward described himself as a Remainer and said he disliked referenda as an organ of democracy. However, he did not wish to “re-open that wound” lest it stoke further division.
Cllr Greg Jones, however, said: “Our constituents want an opportunity to decide on Brexit now the terms are better known, that too should be our view.”
Cllr Jeremy Mayhew said he opposed the motion very strongly, pointing out that the same people who labelled referendums flawed were calling for a second one.
He also ruminated on the current state of British politics as the leave deadline looms with no certainty of a deal, adding: “It is the most extraordinary thing but we’ve got ourselves in a bit of a pickle.”
The motion was voted down, 31 to 60. A spokesman for the City of London Corporation said the body would continue to “make the case vigorously that a deal is better than a no-deal Brexit, which would be a hugely damaging outcome for households and businesses on both sides of the Channel.”
The Corporation’s stance was that a transition period must be secured to allow the financial and professional services sector time to work through the “complex process” of leaving the EU.
It would also continue to push for no-deal contingency planning from EU regulators, calling on them to match the unilateral action taken by UK regulators “to mitigate cliff-edge risks and enable markets to continue to operate smoothly after Brexit”.
Main image George Hoden (Creative Commons).