London mayor says finance industry would flourish outside EU
LONDON: London's finance industry would "flourish mightily" if Britain votes to leave the European Union in the referendum on June 23, London Mayor Boris Johnson told lawmakers. Citing discussions with unidentified senior bankers, Johnson, a leading opponent of Prime Minister David Cameron's campaign to keep the U.K. in the 28-nation bloc, said support for staying in the EU is "shallow" among business leaders.
"What has struck me in private conversations I occasionally have with leading bankers is how finely balanced they believe it to be, and they say they don't think it will do any damage to London's position as a leading financial center," Johnson told the House of Commons Treasury Committee in London on Wednesday. "When you dig into these people's opinions, they're much less strongly held than you might suppose."
Johnson announced he would be backing a so-called Brexit last month in a blow to the premier and the "Remain" campaign. His decision has won him the support of rank-and-file members of the Conservative Party and made him favorite with bookmakers to replace Cameron as prime minister.
"I think the City would continue to flourish outside the EU, flourish mightily," Johnson said. "The critical mass is here in London for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with the EU." Johnson dismissed warnings from some forecasters that sterling could plummet if Britain leaves the EU, saying the economy would become more competitive.
The pound "will be as strong and robust as the U.K. economy," he said. "The risks are with remaining in the EU. Why should we remain tethered to this anti-democratic system?"
The mayor was accused of "exaggeration to the point of a misrepresentation" by the committee chairman, fellow Tory lawmaker Andrew Tyrie, as he was asked about allegations he has made about over-regulation by the EU on issues as diverse as coffin sizes, children's party balloons and the composting of tea bags. Some of the stories are "a figment of your imagination," Tyrie told Johnson. Johnson defended his statements and said he would provide the committee with detailed evidence to back them up. The broader issue that they illustrate is the influence of European regulation on British life and business, he said.
"The advantage of a Brexit is we could amend those regulations; without Brexit you can do nothing," Johnson said. "They are not ideally tailored to the needs of this country."
Johnson argued that the EU's recent experience of crises meant other nations in the bloc would want to secure a quick post-Brexit trade deal. "They would want above all to minimize uncertainty and delay," he said. Accused by opposition Labour Party lawmaker Helen Goodman of not knowing whether he wanted an arrangement with the EU like that of Norway, Switzerland or Canada, Johnson responded: "I don't want to imitate the Canadian deal, I want a British deal." Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.