Belfast Telegraph

Government lagged behind business over Brexit planning, says Lord Hill

Britain's former European Commissioner says the Government has lagged behind business when it comes to Brexit planning, a nd he warned that talks with the EU will end up "nasty, brutish and short" if mishandled.

Lord Hill of Oareford - who quit his post in Brussels following the vote to Leave having backed Remain in the referendum campaign - said that while he was "grateful" to have more clarity on Brexit following Theresa May's speech last week, the Government "was only catching up with what business was starting to do".

Speaking to financial services representatives at an event in London, he said: "You all here have clients who were already having to plan.

"The politicians, they think about two years or four years ... but for the business cycle, you can't sit there for two years or four years thinking, 'oh I wonder what I'll do about my investment plan or where I'll have my headquarters'. So I think that was driving it on."

A number of banks, including JP Morgan and HSBC, have confirmed that parts of their businesses would be moved from the City in response to Brexit and Mrs May's decision to rule out single market membership.

Others like US bank Citigroup and insurance market Lloyd's of London have said they are evaluating the feasibility of shifting some of their UK-based operations to the EU, and will make decisions over the coming months.

Further pain could hit Britain if political pressures overtake sensibility at the Brexit negotiating table, Lord Hill - who served as the European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union from 2014 to 2016 - warned.

"That depends on the way we go into this negotiation, the way we handle it, and whether the preponderant view in Europe - which is that we need to do this sensibly - whether that prevails," he said during a talk run by law firm Simmons & Simmons and communications firm Hanover, in the capital on Tuesday evening.

"I can see that there are political pressures at both ends of this equations, both here and in Brussels, that could mean that the thing ends up being nasty, brutish and short."

But lawmakers can avoid a poor outcome if both EU and UK representatives find common ground at the start of talks, he said.

"I think it depends on...trying to get the politics and the mood music right, because it is a deal making system. If people start from a presumption that they want to do a deal, you can normally find a way."

The former PR lobbyist and Conservative minister Jonathan Hill was appointed by former prime minister David Cameron in 2014 to take over the UK's seat on the commission in 2014 - but stepped down shortly after the Brexit vote, having been "very disappointed" with the outcome of the referendum.