An anti-Brexit campaign group claiming the backing of 300 City lawyers has been formed to fight for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union (EU), and its aims just so happen to correlate with the self-interest of its leading lights – with one who even used to be a case officer in the European Commission.
Days after the news that multinational investment banks like Goldman Sachs will fund pro-EU anti-Brexit referendum efforts, some of London’s highly-paid City solicitors have announced their intention to support the Remain campaign, reports the Financial Times.
Although no big law firm has yet broken rank to comment, doubtless conscious of the fact they have clients supporting both sides of the argument, partners at several firms are reportedly considering whether to depart from neutrality.
Pushing the anti-Brexit line are the likes of John Davies of Anglo-German giant Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. He is leading the new group which calls itself ‘Lawyers – In for Britain’, but stresses its members are acting as independent individuals, not as spokesmen for their respective law firms. He claims that even though lawyers are “not the most popular people in the world” they “can have a reputation for being trustworthy about the facts” which makes their voices valuable. He added:
“I feel strongly that the UK’s economic future and security is better protected as being part of the European Union, so I took a view before the general election that it is something I ought to take an interest in.”
Mr. Davies’ group has already held meetings, including one at multinational law firm Norton Rose Fulbright last November addressed by self-confessed europhile Sir Mike Rake; former Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg; and Business for New Europe’s Roland Rudd.
The group is said to be preparing a campaign document for publication in late February. At the moment, however, it has no website or publicly available list of supporters so it is not possible to identify all of the 300 senior City lawyers the group claims as supporters.
Only those named in the Financial Times can be checked, and looking at their specialism and work history it is not difficult to find the motivation behind their championing of the anti-Brexit campaign.
Starting at the top, John Davies is an antitrust, competition and trade practice partner who works out of Brussels (an office he founded in 1989) and London. He used to be a case officer in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition.
David Morley is senior partner at ‘Magic Circle’ law firm Allen & Overy (A&O). A banking lawyer by background he described Brexit as “the defining issue for the UK, for the economy, if not society as a whole, for a generation”. Explaining his support for anti-Brexit efforts he said:
“About a third of A&O’s revenue is in the UK and another third in Europe. We were able to grow because of EU harmonisation and the recognition of professional qualifications, which meant we could go into business with German, French and Dutch lawyers, which then laid the foundation for our global business.”
Other named supporters include:
- Martin Coleman — Global Head of Antitrust and Competition and Global Co-head of Regulation and Investigations at Norton Rose Fulbright, a regular speaker on EC and competition law topics;
- Stephen Kinsella — head of the European Antitrust/Competition group at Sidley Austin, awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen for services to British commercial interests in Belgium;
- Stephen Kon — senior partner of King & Wood Mallesons (Europe/Middle East), a leading EU, competition and regulation lawyer;
- Andrew Renshaw — antitrust, competition and trade partner in the Brussels office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer;
- Rhodri Thompson QC — a senior silk specialising in competition law and EU law out of Matrix Chambers, received the 2008 EU/Competition law Silk of the Year Award from Chambers and Partners; and
- Kevin Coates an official in the Directorate General for Competition of the European Commission.
A group claiming to have 38 more junior lawyers, calling itself ‘Young Lawyers Network — Stronger In’, has also been launched. Their leader, the technology, media and communications lawyer Darren Jones of Bond Dickinson, says he has been contacting British universities to help with its campaign.
Neither group says it is aware of any lawyers forming groups to support the Leave campaign.