There's nothing patriotic about making a guy dressed as St George hide down an alleyway behind some flowers. It's Friday, and Nigel Farage is derailing Leadenhall Market's St George's Day eve celebrations. There's a man dressed in mock chainmail, a red cape, crown and he's being reduced to skulking out of site. The novelty noble has been employed by the City of London for the party. As such, he can't make any public political affiliations, so he's cowering around the corner until England's most famous beer drinker calls an end to his latest publicity stunt. But I haven't come down to Leadenhall Market this Friday for England, St George, or Farage. I've come to find out what liquid-lunching City slickers think of the Brexit debate.
The general rule is that the City backs Remain, and on the whole the big companies are in favour of staying in the EU. When you start looking closely, however, things become a confusing joust. On the one hand, large banks and insurance companies are said to favour Remain because the City's connection to Europe is vital for business. Meanwhile smaller brokerage firms, foreign exchange traders or hedge funders often want to Leave as they see interference from Brussels as hampering their global growth.
At first nobody wants to talk, until UKIP's leader appears, nursing a pint at 11.30AM, waiting for press. So I oblige. How do you think the City would benefit from Brexit? "The big firms here – Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank – they virtually own the European Commission," he says, Faragely. "But talk to brokers and traders in foreign exchange and what they see is a compliance culture, coming from Brussels, over which we have very little say, which is driving business offshore."
Farage greets an old friend, Richard Burrows, a boss of a foreign exchange company, and asks him to explain why the City should reject the EU. "We get bogged down by lots of compliance and regulation," says Richard. "It creates difficulties, but I am little ambivalent about Brexit. I am fed up with Brussels, but I run a business and there is a lot of uncertainty about it."It's not quite the hole-in-one the UKIP leader was looking for.
I ask a group of headhunters in their 20s and 30s whether they think we should stay or leave the EU. "Stay!", they cry in unison, gripping their pre-noon Friday pints. Is that the opinion of the whole City? "No it's definitely divided," says one. "But Europe drives our economy." Some think we'd be better off setting our own rules, I suggest. "I think it's just an excuse for anarchy to be honest," replies another.
A 24-year-old Scotsman working in recruitment is on business from Switzerland and is emphatically pre-Remain. "If we leave then it would be a catalyst for another Scottish Independence referendum. Also, there are skilled workers in the European markets, and you might not be able to find the same skills in the UK. It works both ways."
But not all of the City's youth wing are Remainers. Two 20-year-old female telecommunications workers from Bromley enthuse about leaving the EU. "We should be independent Britain again," says one. "We do talk about it at work and most people feel the same. The financial sector will probably have a different opinion because they have stronger connections to EU countries. But not for us."
A 20-something account manager in finance with an air of William Hague wowing the Tory conference about him is also sceptical. "Originally I was definitely 'in', but the 'out' campaign has been very strong in the last six months, so I'm undecided," he says. "The EU is good as an economic union, but not as a political union. I like its principles, free trade, free movement, but there has been a devolution of sovereignty to the EU; its courts and lawmaking bodies are a little too powerful."
Two insurance brokers in their late 30s will vote Remain, despite the fact their bosses "bend our ears a couple of times a week on it," says one. "They are convinced of leaving and are quite passionate about it."
By 12.30pm, my head is spinning with Brexit's Rumsfeldian unknowability. A power cut at the Lloyds building has swollen the crowd, the banker-banter growing from a rumble to a roar. A couple of 50-something men who work in IT are grinning into the throng. "Financially we should stay," says the more dapper of the pair. "But I am veering towards the Out camp. We can't do anything without Estonia or Bulgaria saying something."
Mata Veleta is an EU migrant – a 42-year-old Greek-Italian who works for an insurance company: "In the short term, a lot of things would be lost. One third of the global insurance premium is generated through the EU. What would that mean if the UK were no longer part of it?"
Mata's friend Richard Higgs, 66, is an underwriter. "My workplace is a third in, a third out and a third completely undecided. When you see the dichotomy of opinion of people involved in the financial world, it is totally unreasonable to expect those outside who only get their judgement from the Daily Mail to make the decision. We are in a hopeless muddle."
A group of morris dancers clear a space and start to whack sticks and jangle bells. Later I sort through the roughly 24 people I received clear answers from. Out of those aged 18-30, two wanted Britain to leave the EU, compared with seven who wish to remain and one man who is on the fence. The three who fit into the 30-45 category all wish to remain. It's the 45-60 camp who are most likely to drag the UK out based on these results, with five men wanting to leave and two on the fence; the over 60s I spoke to produced one Leave, one Remain, and one on the fence.
One thing is certain: nobody knows anything. Not even the City, full of people paid through the nose to sound very certain about things to imbue the markets with "confidence", can offer anything even particularly tangible. Right now, we're all the Crusader in the alley, hiding from Brexit's Farage-powered wave of uncertain certainty, hoping it goes away without wrecking the joint.
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