Brexit donors say Britain will re­verse de­ci­sion to leave EU

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

LON­DON: Two of the big­gest donors to the Brexit cam­paign say they now be­lieve the project they cham­pi­oned will even­tu­ally be aban­doned by the gov­ern­ment and the United King­dom will stay in the Euro­pean Union.

Peter Har­g­reaves, the bil­lion­aire who was the sec­ond big­gest donor to the 2016 leave cam­paign, and vet­eran hedge fund man­ager Crispin Odey told Reuters they ex­pect Britain to stay in the EU de­spite their cam­paign vic­tory in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

As a re­sult, Odey, who runs hedge fund Odey As­set Man­age­ment, said that he is now po­si­tion­ing for the pound to strengthen after his flag­ship fund pre­vi­ously reaped the ben­e­fit of bet­ting against U.K. as­sets amid wider mar­ket fears about the im­pact of Brexit.

The donors’ pes­simism comes amid dead­lock in Britain’s Par­lia­ment over the exit deal that Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has struck with the EU, which has cast sig­nif­i­cant uncer­tainty over how, or even if, Brexit will hap­pen.

Har­g­reaves, who amassed his for­tune from co-found­ing fund su­per­mar­ket Har­g­reaves Lans­down, said the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment were de­ter­mined to scut­tle Brexit and this would lead to a gen­er­a­tion of dis­trust of Britain’s po­lit­i­cal classes.

The gov­ern­ment, he said, is likely to first ask for an ex­ten­sion to the for­mal exit process from the EU and then call for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

“I have to­tally given up. I am to­tally in de­spair, I don’t think Brexit will hap­pen at all,” said Har­g­reaves, 72, who is one of Britain’s wealth­i­est men and do­nated 3.2 mil­lion pounds ($4 mil­lion) to the leave cam­paign.

“They [pro-Euro­peans] are bank­ing on the fact that peo­ple are so fed up with it that they will just say ‘sod it we will stay.’ I do see that at­ti­tude. The prob­lem is when some­thing doesn’t hap­pen for so long you feel less an­gry about it.”

Turn­ing Brexit up­side down would mark one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary re­ver­sals in modern Bri­tish his­tory and the hur­dles to an­other ref­er­en­dum re­main high. Both ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties are com­mit­ted to leav­ing the EU in ac­cor­dance with the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

But Odey, who do­nated more than 870,000 pounds to pro-leave groups, said while he did not be­lieve a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum would take place, he did not think Brexit would hap­pen ei­ther.

“My view is that it ain’t go­ing to hap­pen,” Odey said.

“I just can’t see how it hap­pens with that con­fig­u­ra­tion of Par­lia­ment,” he added. Britain’s Par­lia­ment is viewed as largely pro-Euro­pean since about three-quar­ters of law­mak­ers voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

Odey said he had changed his po­si­tion on ster­ling over the last month and that the pound “looks like it could be quite strong” and rise to $1.32 or $1.35 against the dol­lar, from around $1.27 cur­rently.

Both Odey and Har­g­reaves said one rea­son for their pes­simism was a lack of di­rec­tion from Brex­i­teers.

“The un­for­tu­nate thing is that al­most no­body is lead­ing the Brexit charge, so it’s lead­er­less, which is the prob­lem,” Odey said.

He said he would be will­ing to do­nate to the leave cause in the event of an­other ref­er­en­dum, while Har­g­reaves said he was un­de­cided.

Other prom­i­nent Brexit sup­port­ers who bankrolled the cam­paign were more op­ti­mistic about the project’s fate.

Paul Marshall, who is chair­man of the hedge fund firm Marshall Wace, which runs $39 bil­lion in as­sets, told Reuters that aban­don­ing Brexit would be wrong as well as highly dam­ag­ing.

“De­spite the an­tics in Par­lia­ment, the prospect of the 2016 ref­er­en­dum be­ing over­turned is in my view very small,” said Marshall, who gave 100,000 pounds to the leave cam­paign prior to the vote.

Marshall pre­dicted the most likely out­come is that Britain will leave the EU with­out a deal in March, or the gov­ern­ment will se­cure a re­vised Brexit deal, solv­ing the thorny is­sue of the North­ern Ir­ish back­stop, which may in­volve Brexit be­ing briefly de­layed.

An­other vo­cal Brex­i­teer Tim Martin, the chair­man of Bri­tish pub chain JD Wether­spoon, who do­nated 212,000 pounds to the 2016 cam­paign, said he was re­fus­ing to con­tem­plate a sec­ond vote.

He is tour­ing his pubs giv­ing talks to cus­tomers about the mer­its of leav­ing the EU with­out a deal and aims to have vis­ited 100 of his sites by the end of Jan­uary.

A sec­ond ref­er­en­dum would be “a night­mare,” Martin said.

“It’s like say­ing: ‘Do you think we should have an­other world war?’ or ‘What do you think about be­ing struck by light­ning?’” he said. –

An anti-Brexit pro­tester holds a plac­ard show­ing a graphic of a per­son shoot­ing them­selves in the foot.

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