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Big money: the key to Brexit guarantees?

by Rachel Franklin | 09.09.2016

Post-referendum uncertainty reigns across all policy areas, except, perhaps, for the wealthiest.

The government remains cagey about its plan for Britain’s future relationship with the EU and single market access. Theresa May says she has an “open mind”, suggesting that she herself may not know. On the other hand, an open mind could also be an opportunity for interest groups to re-shape the workings of modern democracy by ensuring every voice with a stake in Britain’s future relationship with the EU is heard.

Every sector of the economy is affected by Brexit, but a battle may be emerging over who can shout loudest to ensure their interests are represented in the Brexit process. In the corridors of power, the loudest can often mean the richest.  

With so much still unclear more than two months after the vote, the government did show a little skirt this week. What we now know about Britain’s Brexit deal is that: 1. Free movement has to change, this is a red line for the government 2.This red line does not apply to bankers.

The same week the banking lobby upped its efforts to gain the government’s ear, Chancellor Philip Hammond made one of clearest statements about the post-Brexit action plan – preferential treatment for City workers and “highly-skilled” businessmen and women. In other words, free movement for bankers, in line with one of the banking lobby’s key asks.

The lobbying industry in the UK has been comparatively muted. Yet this looks set to change, with public affairs companies and law firms recruiting big ticket staff set for a Brexit lobbying boom.

Others seek reassurances

But being heard may not prove so easy for those without big money behind them. EU workers already in the UK have not received reassurances about their future. The prime minister has been accused of wanting to use them as pawns in future negotiations with the EU.

Universities are seeking to align themselves with City workers, having seen their lobbying success, but have not heard anything like the same post-Brexit certainty from the government on free movement of academics and researchers. For months, they have been warning of the impact of restrictions on talent for research revenues and research excellence. Likewise, the agriculture sector, which fears the loss of seasonal workers to bring harvests, and the food and drink industry.

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    The National Health Service did get a mention in Hammond’s remarks, with high-earning doctors and surgeons possibly included in the exemption the bankers will enjoy, though it was not spelled out as clearly as the reassurances to the banking sector.

    Transparency

    Hammond’s statement, the day after closed-door talks with senior banking figures, comes in the face of calls to make the Brexit process more open and transparent.

    Heralded by many as a democratic triumph, the referendum put Britain’s geopolitical and economic future directly in the hands of the people with a simple binary question: in or out. Despite entrusting the electorate with such a monumental decision, this prime minister is keeping her cards close to her chest by failing to disclose the consequences of the people’s decision.

    For all May’s talk of representing everyone in Britain and seeing through the people’s will, when it comes to Brexit, the announcement on access for bankers raises the question of whether the prime minister is genuinely a champion of the people, or whether, to misquote George Orwell, all stakeholders are equal but some are more equal than others.

    Edited by Yojana Sharma