Big businesses and banks are dominating the Brexit process in secret meetings

Sophia Akram

Big businesses and banks are dominating the Brexit process in secret meetings, according to a report by Global Justice Now and the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

‘Big Business Brexit’

The report [pdf] reveals that Brexit ministers have held six meetings with corporate lobby groups for every one held with civil society groups. In fact, big business made up 70% of all 278 meetings on record.

Those present at meetings included [pdf] Conservative Party donors, such as the Arbuthnot Banking Group. Arbuthnot also gave David Davis MP, Chief Brexit Minister, £50,000 during his unsuccessful leadership campaign in 2005.

The finance sector has in fact dominated [pdf] interests among the meetings. And big hitters like TheCityUK, HSBC and Goldman Sachs were present at 18 of 46 meetings with the banking sector. Contrast this with Britain’s two biggest trade unions, which have had just two meetings on record:

This corporate bias follows a similar pattern that the two campaign groups highlighted in an earlier report. Findings in July 2017 showed corporate lobbyists were dominating meetings with trade ministers who are developing post-Brexit trade relationships.

Furthermore, small and medium sized businesses represent 99.9% of private sector organisations in the UK. But the latest report says [pdf] they are “drastically outnumbered” by ‘big business’.

Jean Blaylock, a campaigner at Global Justice Now, said:

The corporate bias that has been exposed in this list of meetings shows that we are veering dangerously towards a ‘big business Brexit’ rather than a Brexit that might take into account the wider needs of UK society.

Secret meetings

In fact, the report says [pdf] that the bias may be far more wide-reaching. And it made the following observations about transparency:

  • The list of meetings on Brexit is published three months after they take place.
  • Transparency rules do not cover most Brexit officials.
  • Data on roundtable meetings do not reveal all attendees.
  • The titles of the meetings are vague and give no detail about their exact subject matter other than being about leaving the EU.
  • The government blocks Freedom of Information requests about meetings because they might prejudice negotiations with other states, among other reasons.
  • Corporations, NGOs or trade unions do not need to complete the UK lobby register.

In short, we do not know who Brexit officials and ministers are meeting with, what they are discussing, or when.

CEO transparency campaigner Vicky Cann said:

Brexit will strongly affect people’s private and professional lives in the UK, so it is vital that the process is as transparent as possible and that many different interests are consulted.

Baylock added that the opaque process and lack of representation had wider ramifications:

there is every chance that the UK government will use Brexit as an opportunity to do away will all manner of vital protections relating to labour rights, consumer standards and the environment.

None the wiser

The report also shows that EU officials took three meetings with corporate lobby groups for every one they held with civil society. And their transparency record is also wanting, despite the chief Brexit negotiator in Brussels, Michel Barnier, vouching [pdf] that there would be unprecedented transparency during the Brexit process.

Current Brexit negotiations are no further forward as Davis flew to Brussels on Monday 28 August to meet with Barnier. And the general public is none the wiser as to what a post-Brexit Britain may look like. But it seems that the interests of big businesses and banks are getting more access to the negotiating table than those representing the majority of Britain.

Get Involved!

Read [pdf] the full briefing and view the datasets.

– Support organisations like Global Justice Now and CEO.

Write to your MP asking them to seek more transparency around Brexit meetings.

– Read more Canary articles on Brexit.

Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.

Featured image via Flickr/Flickr and in-text image via Corporate Europe Observatory/Global Justice Now

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