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Brexit

Peter Mandelson Calls for a 'People's Vote' While Telling Potential Clients Brexit Can't Be Stopped

A conflict of interest?

by Solomon Hughes
19 December 2018, 9:00am

Peter Mandleson on College Green the day after the 2017 General Election result (Paul Smyth / Alamy Stock Photo)

Peter Mandelson, one of the founder-directors of the main campaigns to stop Brexit, also runs a company offering international corporations advice about how to deal with the approaching inevitability of Brexit.

Lord Mandelson – nicknamed the Prince of Darkness during the Blair years for his ability to spin media coverage – is a director of the anti-Brexit "Open Britain", one of the organisations behind the “People's Vote” campaign.

Open Britain was the officially recognised remain campaign during the EU referendum, under its older name "Britain Stronger in Europe/The In Campaign". After losing the referendum, it was renamed Open Britain, and joined the People’s Vote drive for a second referendum. Mandelson also appears on the "People’s Vote" website as a "Leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign". The People’s Vote campaign is run from Open Britain’s offices in Millbank Tower in Westminster.

Mandelson was floating a possible second referendum in early 2017. In February, he wrote in the Independent, "When a deal is reached the country is entitled, either directly or through parliament, to pass judgement on what’s on offer… The whole of the country is entitled to make up their minds" on the terms of Brexit. Also in February of 2017, he told the Big Issue, “If the public wants to change its mind then it’s up to Parliament to reflect that. Parliament might want to do that through its own vote, or it might do so by calling a second referendum. It’s entirely speculative at this stage to predict anything, but the job of Parliament is to reflect and express the public will." This July, Lord Mandelson put it in more strident terms, writing in the Independent that, "It’s time for the public to stand up against the Brextremists and demand a People’s Vote."

All of which appears to be rather a contrast to what Mandelson wrote in the business magazine Australian Financial Review last September: "I worked hard to avoid Brexit. If it could be stopped I would help stop it, but the people have spoken and that has to be respected."

He was writing in his capacity as chairman of his "Strategic Advice Consultancy", Global Counsel, before a visit to Australia to meet their clients in Sydney and Melbourne. He added: "Regardless, all the signs are that it [Brexit] is going to happen whatever I might think and however badly the exit negotiations are going now. Which means Australia has a chance to help us make a success of it."

Mandelson has been at the helm of Global Counsel since 2010. Global Counsel say they help "companies anticipate and adapt" to "policy change". In effect, then, Global Counsel will be charging clients for advice on how to deal with Brexit, not least because, as its website says: "Global Counsel has been helping clients prepare for a possible Brexit over the past two years. Our team of former Whitehall and Brussels policymakers and sectoral specialists, based at our offices in Brussels and London, enable us to help clients navigate the politics, policy and commercial implications of Brexit."

London law firm Herbert Smith Freehills and US management consultants the Boston Consulting Group have become "Brexit Partners" with Global Counsel, to offer advice to their big business clients on how to deal with trade and other business issues as the UK leaves the EU.

According to the law firm, "Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, we have been working with Global Counsel to provide our European clients with a holistic perspective on Brexit" and "its impact on their activities".

It may seem curious that, at the same time Mandelson is taking to the barricades for a People's Vote, he’s advising businesses on how to navigate Brexit, with his company charging them for the advice. VICE reached out to Mandelson and Global Counsel to ask for their comments on this – in particular, we wanted to know if Mandelson’s position on the board of Open Britain was sustainable, given his apparent stance that Brexit is inevitable – but none was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Global Counsel’s report on the possibility of "Hard Brexit" says companies could see a big risk to their profits through new tariffs. To try preserving profits, Global Counsel advises that firms could, for example, "increase sales prices" or try "reducing quality" of goods so they are cheaper to make.

Global Counsel downplays any chance of stopping Brexit, and seems to suggest that elements of a hard Brexit are inevitable. As a compromise, it proposes that freedom of movement and protections for things like workers' rights could be sacrificed as long as market access is maintained: "Popular support for some form of hard Brexit and the political imperative not to imperil prosperity mean that a carefully crafted compromise will be called for in balancing the minimum elements of hard Brexit (e.g. controlling immigration and elective alignment with EU rules) with the greatest possible degree of reciprocal market access."

VICE asked the People's Vote campaign and Open Britain if Mandelson’s position on the board of Open Britain was sustainable, given that he gives advice that Brexit is inevitable. They made no response.

VICE hopes to hear from Mandelson and Open Britain. As it stands, it seems that Mandelson’s position on the board of Open Britain and his advocacy of a second referendum are contradicted by his public statements to prospective business clients.

Who Are Open Britain?

While Open Britain are a major force behind the "People’s Vote" campaign, they do not list their directors or leadership on their website. But by law, they must list their directors on the Companies House Website. According to Companies House, their current directors are:

Lord Mandelson

Joe Carberry – A former “New Labour” adviser who is now head of PR for Deliveroo.

Will Straw – Son of former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Roland Rudd – Founder of City PR firm Finsbury. Brother of Work & Pensions secretary Amber Rudd.

Daniel Gieve – Chief of Staff of corporate PR firm Finsbury, Gieve is the son of a former deputy governor of the Bank of England.

Sir Mike Rake – Former Chairman of telecoms firm BT and former European Chairman of accountants KPMG.

Richard Reed – Founder of Innocent Drinks, which he later sold to Coca Cola. Donated to both the Lib Dems and Chuka Umunna.

James McGrory – Formerly Nick Clegg’s chief spin doctor from 2013-5, during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

Trevor Phillips – Former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

June Sarpong – Broadcaster.

@SolHughesWriter