Leading Brexit donors say Britain will reverse decision to leave EU

Britain’s Conservative MP and former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech entitled “Opportunity in Uncertainty” at the Pendulum Summit 2019 conference at the Convention Centre in Dublin on Thursday. — AFP

LONDON — Two of the biggest donors to the Brexit campaign say they now believe the project they championed will eventually be abandoned by the government and that the United Kingdom will stay in the European Union.

Peter Hargreaves, the billionaire who was the second biggest donor to the 2016 leave campaign, and veteran hedge fund manager Crispin Odey told Reuters they expect Britain to stay in the EU despite their campaign victory in the 2016 referendum.

As a result, Odey, who runs his hedge fund Odey Asset Management, said he is now positioning for the pound to strengthen after his flagship fund previously reaped the benefit of betting against UK assets amid wider market fears about the impact of Brexit.

The donors’ pessimism comes amid deadlock in Britain’s parliament over the exit deal that Prime Minister Theresa May has struck with the EU, which has cast significant uncertainty over how, or even if, Brexit will happen.

Hargreaves, who amassed his fortune from co-founding fund supermarket Hargreaves Lansdown, said the political establishment are determined to scuttle Brexit and this will lead to a generation of distrust of Britain’s political classes.

The government, he said, is likely to first ask for an extension to the formal exit process from the EU and then call for a second referendum.

“I have totally given up. I am totally in despair, I don’t think Brexit will happen at all,” said Hargreaves, 72, who is one of Britain’s wealthiest men and donated 3.2 million pounds ($4.08 million) to the leave campaign.

“They (pro-Europeans) are banking on the fact that people are so fed up with it that will just say ‘sod it we will stay’. I do see that attitude. The problem is when something doesn’t happen for so long you feel less angry about it.”

Turning Brexit upside down would mark one of the most extraordinary reversals in modern British history and the hurdles to another referendum remain high. Both major political parties are committed to leaving the EU in accordance with the 2016 referendum.

But Odey, who donated more than 870,000 pounds to pro-Leave groups, said that while he did not believe a second referendum will take place, he does not think Brexit happen either.

“My view is that it ain’t going to happen,” Odey said in an interview. “I just can’t see how it happens with that configuration of parliament.”

Britain’s parliament is viewed as largely pro-European because about three-quarters of lawmakers voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

Odey said he had changed his position on sterling over the last month and that the pound “looks like it could be quite strong” and rise to $1.32 or $1.35 against the dollar. — Reuters