The home secretary is currently seen as a safe pair of hands to protect the Square Mile’s interests post-Brexit, writes Olenka Hamilton.
Theresa May has been identified by a number of City sources as the favourite to succeed David Cameron as PM. ‘Theresa May is the only choice with sufficient gravitas to steady the ship at this critical time. She's a tough negotiator and played a clever hand during the referendum,’ said former speech writer to Boris Johnson, Ross Gow of Acuity Reputation. An adviser to governments and UHNWs worldwide, Gow said May was ‘the clear favourite to protect the City's "passporting rights" into the European market’.
May now leads the race to become the next leader of the Conservative party along with justice secretary Michael Gove. Tory grandee Liam Fox MP, work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb and energy minister Andrea Leadsom make up the rest of the field. Gove’s addition came as a surprise this morning, and was followed by Boris Johnson’s even more surprising withdrawal from the leadership race.
‘The City is fearful of Eurozone countries planning to seize on Brexit to build their own capital markets’ union and is looking for the most stable and least unattractive candidate,’ Gow said of May.
Unsurprisingly, stability was the watchword for Petronella West, director of private clients at Investment Quorum: ‘There’s so much uncertainty and the faster we can start to make some decisions the better - I want stability and I want free trade. But I’m less concerned for Britain because I know that we can make the best of it. If one country can, we can.’
‘The job is a poisoned chalice,’ says West. ‘But I think May could bring a more balanced view. I think the government are undecided as to how they’re going to deal with the Brexit aftermath: this has to be taken forward with care and consideration and I think May is tough enough.’
Resolution is the key in any leadership battle but Britain’s exit from the EU and the sequential division it has opened elsewhere has also put a premium on the need to build consensus. ‘Anyone who is prepared to negotiate willingly for an outcome, rather than dig themselves in belligerently for the sake of so-called sovereignty, will be the City’s preferred choice,’ says former Tory mayoral candidate and entrepreneur Ivan Massow, who identified leading Brexiteer Gove’s rigidity as a sticking point.
‘Michael Gove is the most dogmatic. Flexibility and a little bit of neutrality on the whole Brexit thing would be useful because 48 per cent of people still want to be in Europe. The City wants to be part of a single market.’
‘May was neutral during the campaign. She sympathises with Brexiteers and especially with their worries over immigration. From an economic perspective she thought the EU membership was a good idea, and I think that’s what we’ll end up having – an economic union with Europe. It’s exactly what she and most people want.’
The winner of the Conservative party leadership race will be announced on 9 September.