For our inaugural outing, Sophie McIntyre lunches with Iain Martin, the journalist and chronicler of the City
‘I have to make a speech at four,’ notes Iain Martin as he eyes the two flutes of champagne on the table. But after tentatively sipping his, the author and former Scotsman editor sees the light over his fennel soup. ‘We might as well split a bottle, don’t you think?’ Good man. We tuck into our main courses: slow roasted lamb, grilled hake and a delicious 2012 Côtes du Jura. Bravo!
The inaugural Spear’s Liquid Lunch is at Lutyens, a Conran-designed establishment on the ground floor of the former Press Association building off Fleet Street — and what better place to pick Martin’s brains on Brexit and the City? In his latest book,
Crash Bang Wallop, he analyses the Big Bang of the 1980s before making his predictions for the Brexit era.
So might Brexit create as much turmoil as 2008? ‘It could,’ he says, ‘but I don’t think it will be as sudden as that.’ The City would, however, struggle with a hard Brexit, he fears: ‘There would be instant dislocation and a rapid period of adjustment. It would be difficult but not impossible.’
The softly mannered but enthusiastic Scot, late of the Wall Street Journal and Sunday Telegraph, doesn’t find Brexit scaremongering all that convincing: ‘Britain is the second largest contributor for the EU — that’s a major thing for a club to lose. The smarter Germans realise that London is the eurozone. And where
is all the clearance and settlement business going to go?’ he notes, laying down his cutlery to allow his hands to express the point with more emphasis.
Would it go to Frankfurt? ‘Have you ever been to Frankfurt? The idea that it is going to be the new financial hub is complete nonsense. It’s too small and there is no way senior figures in finance are going to live in Frankfurt or have their children educated in Frankfurt.’ What of Paris? ‘This is a joke. Ridiculous labour laws make it very difficult to hire and fire, particularly back-office staff.’
The avowedly pro-market Martin dismisses Dublin as ‘tiny’ with a dangerously over-inflated banking sector, and New York? Well, why leave the eurozone and not be in London? It ‘logically makes no sense’, he insists. ‘London basically operates the eurozone — trading in OTC derivatives, slots, foreign exchange, and almost 20 per cent of all EU bank lending, and there’s a lot of risk in moving all this.’ The grander economy aside, he believes the City has little to fear and innovation and tech growth will see it through the choppy waters: ‘Brexit does pose quite a few challenges, but my optimism is rooted in the positive experience the City has had of surviving death, fire, disaster, scandal.
‘Finance is about to be transformed just as much as it was in the Big Bang,’ he adds between mouthfuls of British camembert. ‘It’s going to go through something similar to 1986 or 1993. Artificial intelligence and block chain technology will transform the nature of money and how it’s moved around over the next ten to fifteen years.’
In fact, he thinks Donald Trump’s presidency could well have a greater impact on the City. How will London ever keep pace with Trump’s proposed deregulation in the cautious, post-2008 political environment?
Over an espresso, Martin maps out the Brexit process ahead: the potentially costly divorce, the agreement, and the importance of personalities. He loves personalities — as is clear in his dissection of Fred Goodwin’s micromanaging character and its role in the 2008 crash in his 2013 book Making It Happen.
With his political reporter hat on, Martin is very excited about the impact of the forthcoming elections on the Brexit process. It’s all change in Europe. In Germany ‘it could be Merkel, who has a great reputation but never delivers, or [Martin] Schulz, a dangerous left-winger but an extraordinary Anglophile’. If Marine Le Pen wins in France, the collapse of the EU is a distinct possibility. ‘It’s all going to be thrown up in the air in the next six months,’ he predicts.
We polish off the bottle of Jura in a leisurely manner. Martin checks his watch — and then his phone. ‘The PR’s been calling,’ he sighs. ‘I should have been at the venue at 3.30.’ It’s 3.40. Coats are ordered. As he slips into his mackintosh, there’s a moment of awkwardness as I go for the kiss-on-the-cheek and he a handshake: then crash bang wallop, he’s off, beetling down past St Bride’s towards Fleet Street, the City seemingly safe from the Brexit tribulations ahead.
To enjoy all this and more, go to your nearest WHSmiths travel store or independent newsagent to buy the May/June edition of Spear's magazine or visit www.spearswms.com/subscribe