LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) - Top bankers quizzed Britain’s new financial services minister on Wednesday about what the government is doing to meet their demands for a smooth departure from the European Union.
Stephen Barclay attended a private meeting in the Canary Wharf financial district with senior industry leaders as the government attempts to repair fractured ties with the sector.
Banks fear losing their right to sell services across the EU and the potential shock to business if there is no transitional deal to cushion the impact of leaving the bloc.
This was the first time Barclay, a 45-year-old former banker, has met privately with a group of senior City figures since he was appointed last month and comes amid a more conciliatory tone towards business after last month’s election.
Barclay spoke at a meeting of the advisory council of TheCityUK, the financial services lobby group, which meets three times a year, according to people who attended.
He reiterated that Britain’s finance ministry would prioritise four main points - transition, immigration, trade and regulatory co-operation - before taking questions from bankers.
“Barclay was impressive as City Minister, with a good grasp of the issues, acknowledged the importance of the sector and its priorities, and was keen to hear practitioner views,” the chairman of Barclays Plc John McFarlane, who also chairs the CityUK, told Reuters.
The Treasury declined to comment, while The CityUK declined to comment on the private gathering.
Britain’s financial sector employs 2.2 million people and its executives say the industry deserves to be a priority in the Brexit negotiations because it is the country’s largest exporter and accounts for about 12 percent of its tax revenues.
Britain’s banking industry see the Treasury and finance minister Philip Hammond as their most powerful ally in government and bankers were worried when it appeared he might lose his job in the run-up to the election.
But Hammond’s reinforced influence and the appointment of key lieutenants like Barclay has been received positively.
Barclay told the group that the debate within government about whether there should be a transitional deal has been won and the question now centres around how long it should last and what it should look like, according to a person who attended.
“Barclay was clear that he got the transition point,” said another person who attended and asked not to be named.
The performance was in contrast with that of his predecessor, Simon Kirby, who was criticised for having too little knowledge of finance after a similar meeting with senior finance executives in November at which he made jokes about a former City minister appearing on “Strictly Come Dancing”.
“That was a car crash. This was completely different,” said one person who was present at both meetings.
However, any thawing in relations between two pillars of Britain’s establishment may have arrived too late to prevent bank jobs moving from London overseas.
Top executives at five of the largest banks in the capital told Reuters a staggered deal on leaving the EU is only likely to be agreed late on in talks with Brussels, meaning they have already begun relocating staff.
Reporting by Anjuli Davies and Andrew MacAskill; editing by Alexander Smith