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September 29, 2017updated 17 Oct 2017 4:06pm

Verdict: London’s financial crown is safe – Spear’s debate

By Emelia Hamilton Russell

The City of London’s financial crown is safe, according to the vote at the Spear’s Wealth Insight forum, writes Emelia Hamilton-Russell

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller does not take prisoners, and the Spear’s Grand Brexit Debate proved no exception. For the woman who took the British government to court over the triggering of Article 50, and won, the post-Brexit prognosis is dire. ‘The government have proven themselves totally inept,’ she declares. ‘When it comes to negotiating, they are incapable, in my view, of getting us to a place that means the City is protected.’

While some are looking to the Swiss model for salvation, Miller believes they are delusional: ‘The Swiss model does not exist’, and what’s more, ‘EFTA does not save the Financial Services, because it doesn’t get us passporting.’

Backed in supporting the motion – ‘Brexit will tarnish the City of London’s financial crown’ – by New Statesman journalist Stephen Bush, Miller asserted that the drivers of Brexit were also propelling Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to his current popularity, and predicted that the twin disasters: Brexit and socialism, would spell disaster for the City.

Citing current Brexit scenario planning by FTSE 100 companies, Miller added: ‘We have no idea what those scenarios will look like, but behind the scenes, I can tell you that brokers across Europe have been instructed not to invest in domestic UK companies.’

So if Britain falls, will Europe prosper? Not necessarily. Miller believes that North American companies are not looking to increase their presence in the EU – they’re looking towards Asia: ‘Singapore, the African gateway, South America are all increasingly attractive,’ she warned.

If her vision is correct, and a deal isn’t possible with the team in place and with the attitude of the government, the City’s hard won crown can’t help but fall, and Europe will suffer, too.

Undeterred, motion-opposer Rhydian Lewis, of RateSetter fame, refused to see Brexit as a long-term danger to the City’s global pre-eminence:  ‘I can’t say I know what will happen,’ he concedes, ‘but I can say – don’t panic.’ The soft-spoken old Etonian – the chalk to Miller’s cheese – believes that the UK has a massive advantage in the global financial services. Its talent, its infrastructure and its heritage mean the City can survive Brexit untarnished. ‘After Brexit, unrestricted by EU regulation, the UK can choose to be even more competitive,’ he added.

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Back to the other side (the ‘tarnishers’), Stephen Bush warned that Brexit meant that Corbyn was almost certainly bound for Downing Street, and the first thing he would do was negotiate access to the single market – using the City as his bargaining chip. ‘The only way to have a Brexit that’s good for the city of London is not to have one,’ he thundered.

Finally, Oldie editor Harry Mount was called upon. Posing as a voice of reason in ‘an argument that rages at the extremes’, he evoked former Telegraph editor Charlie Moore’s ‘law of negative predictions’ to highlight that the apocalyptic claims regarding post-Brexit Britan were almost certainly being wildly exaggerated. ‘The hyped-up, over-emotional commentary surrounding the debate creates uncertainty, and uncertainty unduly pumps up predictions of a negative outcome,’ he warned. ‘It’s always the case that at any time of tragedy or uncertainty, the predictions of massive negative outcomes, in the end, come down to much less: nothing like the original figure.’

And the audience at the Telford Theatre at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster agreed. The debate, in the end, came down on the side of the optimists – London’s crown is safe. But it was narrow – ‘the same sort of margin as was reflected in the actual referendum’, as remarked by the debate’s chairman, Christopher Silvester, Consultant Editor of Spear’s.

Emelia Hamilton-Russell is a writer and Researcher at Spear’s

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