April 18, 2017 / 12:10 PM / 2 years ago

Bankers dominate lobbying of Britain's Brexit ministry

* Finance accounts for fifth of Brexit ministers’ meetings

* Concerns raised about disparity in access

* Finance firms held twice as many meetings as any other sector

* Brexit lobbying graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2puK4ul

By Andrew MacAskill and William James

LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Finance firms have held twice as many meetings with ministers handling Britain’s exit from the European Union as any other sector of the economy, a Reuters analysis shows.

The figures show that the finance sector retains an outsized influence despite Prime Minister Theresa May signalling she wants to reduce Britain’s economic dependence on the sector and banks’ complaints that they are having difficulty getting their views across.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU sparked one of the most intensive lobbying efforts in recent memory as different sectors fought for government access to help shape the strategy of its most complex negotiations since the end of World War Two.

The Department for Exiting the European Union, headed by David Davis, is in charge of prioritising the government’s demands in those negotiations - a process that involves balancing the competing needs of sectors across the economy.

A Reuters analysis of recently released government data detailing the Brexit department’s 277 external meetings show 59 instances where one of the department’s four ministers met finance companies in the last six months of 2016.

Overall, ministers held meetings with almost 40 sectors ranging from support services to technology, education, infrastructure, charities and agriculture.

The finance industry, including banks, insurers and hedge funds, make up about 10 percent of the British economy, but accounted for about a fifth of the department’s meetings, the analysis shows. This excludes round-table meetings where companies from different sectors were present.

By comparison, manufacturing industry representatives and firms held about 24 meetings with the government, according to the analysis. Trade unions and the transport sector met the ministry 16 times, the analysis shows.

British financial firms launched a frenzy of political lobbying after last year’s vote. They face losing wide-open access to the EU’s $16.5 trillion-a-year single market, raising concerns about whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.

Alex Runswick, a director at the government transparency group Unlock Democracy, raised concern about the number of finance sector meetings with government, warning that it may show only a fraction of its lobbying power.

“What you are seeing is the visible tip of the lobbying iceberg,” Runswick said. “We need to know what it is they are lobbying about and ensure it is fair and transparent so other sectors and voters can have their say too.”

Finance executives said although they have held numerous meetings with ministers, they feel they are still struggling to influence policy.

They point to government plans to pull Britain out of the single market despite months of lobbying to retain some form of access.

“We are having lots of meetings, but we are finding it much harder to get our viewpoint heard,” said one banker, who has held meetings with the government.

Bankers were surprised when government ministers told financial executives in the autumn they would not get special treatment in the Brexit negotiations.

The Department for Exiting the European Union said in a statement that it has spent the last nine months understanding the challenges and opportunities from Brexit and will seek a deal that works for all areas of the British economy.

Most of the previous five British governments going back to Margaret Thatcher’s put financial services at the centre of their plans to grow Britain’s economy. But May’s government has signalled she wants some rebalancing of the economy away from financial services.

May met finance executives individually twice in the last six months of last year - a meeting with Morgan Stanley, and another with Wall Street executives in New York, records show.

She met journalists 17 times and charities four times, the analysis shows.

May also held two dinners with a range of business executives, including bankers from Barclays and Goldman Sachs, the records show.

Since coming to office in July 2016 after the vote to leave the EU, May has made clear her political priority is to re-engage with many working class voters whose backing for Brexit stemmed partly from lingering resentment of hardship caused by the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Editing by Adrian Croft

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