City of London mayor Alan Yarrow warns against parochial thinking

Yarrow becoming concerned about drift in British public’s debate about immigration and EU membership

Alan Yarrow, the lord mayor of the City of London. “We have got to make sure that we have got friends in Europe”

Alan Yarrow, the lord mayor of the City of London. “We have got to make sure that we have got friends in Europe”


Britain needs friends in Europe, says Alan Yarrow, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, who is becoming ever more concerned about the drift in the British public’s debate about immigration and EU membership.

“What is happening is not constructive. The heart has overtaken the mind. The logic is missing from this debate. It is like the Scottish referendum,” he says.

Today, Yarrow begins a two-day visit to Dublin where he will meet with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Central Bank, Ulster Bank and the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce.

“Slightly selfishly, we have got to make sure that we have got friends in Europe. We want to make sure there are no lines of misunderstanding. Ireland is incredibly important to us, as we are to them.

Born in Malaya in 1951 in the latter days of Empire, educated in Singapore, before a successful 40-year banking career with Dresdner Kleinwort in London, Yarrow despairs of the increasingly-strident tone surrounding the immigration debate in Britain.

“This country has benefitted from waves of immigration over the last few hundred years. The Ugandan Asians have been incredibly successful. The 1.4 million Indians, for example. The Tata Group is now the biggest manufacturers in this country,” he says.

“There is a degree of envy which drives these things. Emotion and envy are great mates, and they will work together to get support,” he says.

Questioned about the Next retail fashion chain’s decision to recruit in Poland, not Britain, Yarrow is blunt: “Every single person in Next could be British and be unproductive. The thing that makes you competitive is competition. It stimulates change and you shouldn’t be afraid of it.”


Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has now ended up in a good place on the immigration issue, Yarrow believes, where Cameron is now arguing for powers to cut some of the in-work benefits given to immigrants.

“[\He] has now recognised, which is good, is that the way the benefits are delivered is the problem, not the [sum]. Our [\sum] is less than Europe. He has got the message and he is absolutely in the right position,” he says.

The stridency in the UK surrounding immigration is just one manifestation of the changing political climate.

Germany has seen the rise of Alternative für Deutschland, France has seen significant gains for Marianne Le Pen and Front National.

“Things are becoming progressively more parochial and that is not where we are in the City of London. We are a global business doing business on a global stage,” he says. “We want to be able to go out and hire the talents that we need.”


The EU’s Financial Transaction Tax, due to come into force in January 2016, does “not make any sense”, Yarrow argues. “It will just push trade out of Europe. We have to make sure that people understand that.”

A UK referendum on EU membership may be inevitable if Cameron is re-elected, but Yarrow is not a fan, even though he believed putting the question of Scottish independence to a vote was “a good idea” when it was first mooted.

Now he thinks referendums are “disastrous”.

In Scotland, the vote created “rifts which will take a long time to reconcile” and “internecine fights in factories,” he says: “People get emotional about these things.”

Matters were not helped by London’s handling of events, where it was even out-manoeuvred on the question to be put to Scots: “There was huge complacency. The government was completely out of touch. Their panicked reaction at the end was evidence of that.”