One of the most prominent Brexit-backing UK bosses has questioned the “democratic mandate” for a no-deal Brexit and called for a second referendum if crashing out of the EU looks likely.
Richard Stone, the chief executive of the Share Centre, told Yahoo Finance UK: “You’ve got to go back and ask the people that that’s what they want. I’m not convinced that you wouldn’t get a majority for no deal at this stage.”
Forcing a no-deal Brexit through parliament would be “outrageous,” Stone said, adding: “You’ve got to try and build a consensus to take people with you.”
There were reports that incoming prime minister Boris Johnson was planning to prorogue parliament — effectively dismiss it — ahead of the 31 October Brexit deadline in order to force through no deal. Parliament last week voted to pre-emptively block this option.
Stone was one of the most prominent Brexit supporting business person prior to the 2016 referendum.
He told the Daily Express in 2015 that the UK had “given up control of UK financial services regulation” and should leave the EU. The Share Centre is an execution-only stock broker with 300,000 UK customers and around £5bn in assets.
‘Most likely outcome is second referendum’
A survey of about 1,500 customers of the Share Centre found that 42% want the UK to leave the EU on 31 October without a deal, despite the fact that most believed it would harm the economy and their investments.
Stone told Yahoo Finance UK last week that no deal would be “relatively undesirable but I do think it has to be brought to a head.”
But he added: “It’s difficult to argue that there’s a democratic mandate for [no deal] and I would probably want to see that put back to the people in a second referendum saying: we’ve tried our best to negotiate with the European Union, do you want us to leave with no deal or stay in?”
Stone argued that a second referendum would help solve the problem of parliamentary arithmetic. Outgoing prime minister Theresa May commanded a razor thin majority in parliament and her attempts to push through a Brexit deal were repeatedly blocked by MPs. Johnson will face the same challenge.
“I think now the most likely outcome is a second referendum because, actually, you cut through the dynamic of the House of Commons by effectively saying there isn’t a clear majority for anything,” Stone said.
‘We have a lot to offer’
“I was quite publicly a Brexiteer and I would hold to that still,” Stone said. “I think we should try and get a deal if we can get a deal. Leaving without a deal will be extremely damaging to the EU as well as to us, it’s in both side’s interests to come up with a deal.”
Stone said he would still vote for Brexit today if given a choice between no deal and staying in the EU. He argued that Britain needs “more bespoke” financial regulation and said the UK will benefit from striking independent trade deals with fast-growing areas like Africa and China.
“I think we need to get out there into the world and negotiate those trade deals,” he said. “We have a lot to offer around the English language, English law, which is typically very well respected, our services, our capital markets.”
Stone said new Conservative party leader and future prime minister Boris Johnson “has a relatively broad appeal.”
“In terms of running London, what he effectively did was have a dozen or so deputy mayors underneath him who did a lot of the detail and the work,” he said. “If he can put together a decent team … one of the key things to watch is what the composition of his cabinet is.”
Oscar Williams-Grut covers banking, fintech, and finance for Yahoo Finance UK. Follow him on Twitter at @OscarWGrut.