How seriously should we take the allegations by former Chancellor Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson’s sister that the Tory Party is backed by speculators, hedge funds and vulture capitalists all banking on a crash-out Brexit?
Certainly, throwing the UK off the cliff on 31 October would cause unparalleled chaos for thousands of businesses, with potential bankruptcies and the loss of thousands of jobs. But for leading Brexiteers that could provide a bonanza. Evidence exists already of how, for some, Brexit is a business opportunity. Both ‘shorting’ and hoovering up struggling businesses can prove highly lucrative for some.
Particularly so for hedge fund manager Crispin Odey whose personal wealth is estimated by the Times Rich List at £775 million. He was one of five major donors who contributed £14.9 million to the Leave campaigns. And on the night of the referendum result, it was payback time. He made £200 million after he’d bet on Brexit hitting the pound by ‘shorting’ sterling and moving 65 per cent of his fund into gold in anticipation. He has now bet £300 million against British businesses, so that if they collapse as a result of a no-deal Brexit he will be coining it once again.
Then there is Richard Tice, CEO of ‘asset management group’ Quidnet Capital, who is also chairman of the Brexit Party and was recently elected an MEP. According to his declaration when elected, this post continues to net him a handsome €10,000 a month. Small wonder he can afford to donate his MEP salary to charity.
Tice co-founded the referendum campaign Leave.EU with Arron Banks and frames his economic activity as expertise in ‘distressed debt’. Others would call this vulture capitalism, and sharks like Tice are circling as the Brexit they have campaigned for destroys genuine businesses and makes their assets available for snapping up at low prices.
It may also have been Tice’s ‘business acumen’ that led Farage to set up the Brexit Party as a corporation. Why opt for troublesome membership or policy when you can simply promise a fantasy Brexit and watch the money flow in?
But why stop at national borders? Potential opportunities exist outside the UK to make a mint from a disastrous Brexit.
Many of us breathed a sigh of relief when Parliament passed the law obliging the Prime Minister to seek an extension if he doesn’t negotiate an improved deal before 19 October. But this extension requires a unanimous decision in the EU Council where several heads of government have shown themselves to be signed-up supporters of politics as a business opportunity. Chief among them is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
How much would it cost to persuade Orbán to block the extension? Surely far less than some of the bets the Brexit elite have riding on a no-deal exit on 31 October. Orbán tops the poll for government corruption in Europe and has grown efficient at funnelling EU funds to his family and friends. The EU corruption office, quaintly named OLAF, has asked Hungary to repay four per cent of the funds it received between 2012 and 2015. For such a head of state, taking a back-hander to block the extension we desperately need might seem like just another business transaction.
Whether or not there are billions riding on the UK crashing out of the EU, it is clear that Brexit has moved us beyond the era of the self-serving politician who fails to serve the public and into an era where politicians use democratic politics itself as a business opportunity.
When Boris Johnson said ‘fuck business’ he was thinking of that pedestrian activity of production and sale that provides most of us with a livelihood. But the business of buying and selling futures – our futures – has been boosted hugely by his premiership.
Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England and the Green Party’s Brexit spokesperson.