As Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May is leading the U.K.’s long slog to Brexit. At the Conservative Party’s recent conference, she even suggested that the U.K. would leave Europe’s single market and cut the freedom of cross-border movement in a so-called “hard” Brexit. But just weeks before Britain’s June 23 referendum on leaving the EU, she was reportedly telling Goldman Sachs bankers that Brexit had a good chance of being a less than stellar idea for the British economy.
In an audio recording of remarks reportedly made to Goldman Sachs
on May 26 in London and leaked to The Guardian, then-Home Secretary Theresa May told the bankers—assembled for Goldman Sachs’ Talks at GS series—that she was worried about the negative effects of a possible Brexit.
“I think the economic arguments are clear,” she said, according to The Guardian. “I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant for us. I think, as I was saying to you a little earlier, that one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe.”
She went on to add that “if we were not in Europe, I think there would be firms and companies who would be looking to say, do they need to develop a mainland Europe presence rather than a UK presence? So I think there are definite benefits for us in economic terms.”
Such worries about “[do] they need to develop a mainland Europe presence rather than a U.K. presence?” have come to the forefront since the positive vote on leaving the EU. A lobbying group for The City banking area of London have estimated that the finance industry in Britain could lose up to $48 billion from Brexit; Lloyd’s of London has said it would move some businesses to the new EU if Brexit happens; and top bankers have warned that a finance job exodus could begin as early as the first quarter of 2017.
May also added that Britain’s national security was better served inside the EU, because of instruments to coordinate security forces and share information.
It’s unclear whether May’s leaked remarks will affect the Brexit process or her negotiating position. The pound has dropped since the vote, leading to both higher inflation expectations and a tourism boom, while an early summit between May and EU leaders was frosty. A government spokesman told The Guardian that “Britain made a clear choice to vote to leave the EU and this government is determined to make a success of the fresh opportunities it presents.”
Opposition lawmakers seized on May’s remarks, however.
“It’s good to know that privately Theresa May thinks what many of us have been saying publicly for a long time—leaving the single market would be bad for businesses and for our economy,” Labor lawmaker Phil Wilson told The Guardian. “Now she is prime minister, Theresa May is in an unrivaled position to act on her previous concerns—starting by putting membership of the single market at the heart of her government’s negotiating position.”
Theresa May is not the first politician to be tripped up by remarks to Goldman Sachs, of course. The three speeches Hillary Clinton gave at a 2013 Goldman Sachs conference—for $225,000 each—became a tool with which Berne Sanders and Donald Trump could attack her for being too cozy with the banking industry.