Britain's financial services will remain resilient during the Brexit negotiations

Some in the Brexit camp seem to take great delight in taking an ‘I told you so’ attitude whenever a piece of data or research indicates the country is not, despite previously pessimistic predictions, going to the dogs

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One of the most widely voiced fears about the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union has been the potential for Britain to lose its position as a global centre for financial services. To that end, there is a degree of reassurance in the results of today’s survey by Lloyds Bank of leading executives at a wide range of financial institutions.

The research suggests that more than half of those questioned believe the UK economy will remain resilient in 2017, despite anxieties over Brexit. And while almost a fifth of the financial services firms represented in the survey suggest they are likely to move some operations out of the country, the overwhelming majority of those plan to transfer less than a quarter of their business overseas.

With the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting economic growth of 2 per cent for this year there are some reasons to be cautiously optimistic then, although the long-term picture remains less clear. It is, after all, still two years until Britain comes out of the single market.

Some in the Brexit camp seem to take great delight in taking an “I told you so” attitude whenever a piece of data or research indicates the country is not, despite previously pessimistic predictions, going to the dogs. The dismissal of expert voices during the referendum campaign is shown to have been right by this analysis. Yet it is, at its heart, a fundamentally unhelpful and divisive approach, which appears to be based on a facile assumption that those who voted to remain inside the EU are secretly hoping that the UK will indeed suffer adverse consequences as a result of Brexit.

That is a laughable notion. Nobody in their right mind on either side of the EU debate wishes to see Britain’s economy turn to dust. It is, however, one of the frustrations among many Remainers that they feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to making a success of leaving the EU. If they express anxiety about the future they are accused of being doom mongers who will be to blame if things don’t turn out wonderfully. On the other hand, if they work hard to keep the economy punching above its weight, they face being censured for having had so little faith in Britain before.

It is this combative attitude of some Brexiteers which Sir John Major identified in a column for The Mail on Sunday yesterday. Comparing them to fanatical football hooligans, the former Prime Minister argued that those who continue to be the most outspoken about the need for a hard Brexit must end their criticism of anyone who is not in the same camp. He is right. The outcome of the referendum did not provide a specific mandate for a particular type of EU withdrawal and, as Major notes, the way in which arch-Brexiteers – including the Foreign Secretary and other senior Tories – shout down opposition voices is “unattractive, undemocratic and un-British”. 

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, echoed Major’s remarks in a speech to his party’s conference yesterday, arguing that the Prime Minister, having embraced the rhetoric of the Brexiteers around her, has swung to the right. More than that, he said, Theresa May is taking the same nationalistic approach to global affairs as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The comparison may be a little stretched but Farron is right in broad terms – British patriotism should equate to wanting the country to be successful, not to it being “independent” at any cost.

That Britain’s economy has remained robust since last summer’s referendum is to be heartily welcomed. Signs of resilience in 2017 and beyond are encouraging. But these positive signals do not amount to an all-clear for those who argue for the hardest of Brexits to pursue their one-eyed desires. Remainers will work as hard as anyone to make Britain’s EU withdrawal a success – but their commitment to an outcome they didn’t vote for may well dim if May and her ministers fail to demonstrate clearly that they are governing in the national interest.

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