Bank CEOs most likely to oppose Brexit

Chief executives from HSBC to Goldman Sachs were among the business leaders to endorse prime minister David Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

Richard Gnodde and Michael Sherwood, the London-based co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs’ international division, HSBC’s Stuart Gulliver, and Bill Winters of Standard Chartered signed a letter to The Times newspaper saying that staying in the bloc would be best for the British economy.

Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group were not represented.

Bankers appeared more eager to back Mr Cameron than representatives of other industries, with only 36 of the UK’s 100 biggest companies endorsing the statement that “leaving the EU would deter investment, threaten jobs and put the economy at risk”.

Grocery chains Sainsbury and Tesco were among those not included.

The publication of the letter comes four months to the day until a referendum on so-called Brexit, as Mr Cameron prepares to intensify his campaign after making risks to the economy a central plank of his case for remaining in the EU.

The pound continued its drop against its developed-nation peers yesterday following the decision by London mayor Boris Johnson, Britain’s most popular politician, to support withdrawal from the EU, setting the stage for a heated campaign.

In their letter, the executives said that business needs “unrestricted access to the European market of 500m people in order to continue to grow, invest, and create jobs”.

The signatories, including bosses from Marks and Spencer, Vodafone, and Heathrow Airport, employ 1.2m people and represent about 200 companies, The Times said.

“A vote to remain offers the best of both worlds — it secures our place as a powerhouse in the global economy, while remaining in the world’s largest free trade zone,” John Holland-Kaye, the CEO of Heathrow, said in a separate statement yesterday.

Other finance chiefs to back Mr Cameron were HSBC chairman Douglas Flint, Adrian Montague, chairman of Aviva, Xavier Rolet of the London Stock Exchange, and Tidjane Thiam of Credit Suisse. Perhaps worried about alienating consumers, pay-television provider Sky joined Tesco and Sainsbury in not endorsing the letter.

The referendum is “a matter for the British people”, Sainsbury said in a statement on Monday.

Barclays said that while it did not sign up to the letter as it is against the bank’s policy, “on balance we think it is in the interests of our customers and clients” to stay in the EU.

The financial industry is more likely to be worried about life outside the EU than other business sectors given an exit would jeopardise the so-called passporting arrangements which allow firms to operate from the UK without needing a separate subsidiary on the continent.

On Tuesday, ING CEO Ralph Hamers said the Dutch lender would probably follow other major banks in reducing its London staffing levels if the UK left the EU. HSBC has already said it would probably relocate.

“If some of the mega banks, the markets banks, leave London, we will go with the flow,” Mr Hamers said.

“Either the circus of the financial markets is located in London or it’s going to be somewhere else.”

Mr Cameron warned lawmakers on Monday that the economy would suffer if the UK left the EU and it would be less secure against threats from Russia and terrorism.

The opposition Labour Party intensified its own push to stay in the EU with former minister Alan Johnson using a speech in western England to argue manufacturing jobs would be threatened by Brexit.

The latest opinion poll, conducted by ICM, showed 42% of respondents in favour of staying in the bloc, with 40% opposed and 17% undecided.

The online survey of 2,021 voters was conducted almost entirely before Mr Johnson’s announcement.

A Survation poll carried out Saturday showed a 15 percentage-point lead for staying in.

That is in line with other recent phone surveys, which have consistently shown big leads for the status quo, while more frequent online polling has been inconclusive.


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