The City of London Corporation should not undermine the Government’s negotiating hand on Brexit

The City of London Corporation should not undermine the Government’s negotiating hand on Brexit

On Greenwich station yesterday morning I saw a billboard from the insurance firm Hiscox. It read ‘Brave Hearts need Cool Heads’. This message is one we should all heed on Brexit. It is especially apposite as we consider the anxious bleating of some for the UK to continue membership of the Single Market and a Customs Union with the EU.

They predict catastrophe if we do not retain membership of those EU structures. They proclaim as fact the statements of the EU negotiators that no other access will be allowed. They imply that trade with the EU will grind to a halt if we do not secure such membership. In doing so, they evince a naive acceptance of pretty mischievous gaming by Michel Barnier’s team and are just plain wrong – we can rely on WTO trade arrangements. That is what German businesses do when they deal with Chinese counterparts along the silk route – a much trickier proposition than trading with our neighbours across the Channel.

We can therefore sense a fearful hot-headedness in politicians like Anna Soubry and Wes Streeting. We can’t be sure why such honourable people are not ‘cool’ or ‘brave’ at the moment, but there are others like them stalking the corridors of power in Westminster and the City of London.

For example, in the City, ‘the Corporation’, our local authority, which conventionally represents wider UK Financial and related Professional Services, is being nudged by some shadowy figures towards supporting the calls for membership of the Single Market and a Customs Union (not simply calling for the consensual position of ‘the greatest possible negotiable access’).

We should not lend our authority to legitimising such a position. It would put us at odds with the sensible manifesto commitment and negotiating stance of the UK Government. As that Government – broadly favourable to the City – is hardly ‘strong and stable’, we might rue such an intervention. Moreover, though many Labour parliamentarians would love this to be our position, it would merely please metropolitan voters, rather than many of their supporters in the North from where I hail. It would isolate us needlessly. It would be inept strategically and unwise tactically – as it would win few friends yet alienate some of our most loyal supporters.

Moreover, before any such commitment is seriously discussed, we should ask openly why such membership is seen as necessary and how we can be sure that ‘the sector’ (as opposed to a handful of anxious and assumptive CEOs and chairmen) requires it. We need a process to establish real proof of both desire and need. So far, I have not seen that. We should not adopt an important policy on potentially flawed assumption and special pleading. Our great City is better than that.

This is a moment when courage, self-interest and service come together neatly. We need to be cool enough to support the Government and brave enough to call the bluff of Michel Barnier et al. We should instead offer the alternative freest possible mutual access. Such open trade – free of the political and legal baggage of the EU – would be beneficial for all the people of Europe, not just the British. It would be good for all and align our interests with our neighbours – through choice, not compulsion.

In these anxious times, keeping to such a position needs us to be cool and brave. I hope that the consistently excellent Catherine McGuinness, who leads the Corporation politically, will demonstrate her leadership with such quality. We shall see.

Photocredit: Stephen Archer