Britain’s outgoing Commissioner Jonathan Hill has said he resigned as a matter of principle after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union because the public feel that politicians do not take enough account of their opinions.
In a farewell press conference in Brussels today (14 July) , Hill said, “One of the problems we have generally in public life… is that people have this feeling that when something goes wrong, nothing changes and people don’t take responsibility.
“You have to show that when the people say something, soemone listens and I think it is right that I listened.”
There was no suggestion that Hill was referring to the calls made after the referendum for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to step down.
“I felt very strongly when something as huge as that happens, huge implications for my country and for Europe, for me to sit there as if nothing had happened was completely wrong thing to do in principle,” he said.
“I felt that particularly as someone who is not elected and I also feel it is part of the criticism that people have of politics generally and institutions in particular.”
Hill is a lord, a conservative member of the second house of the UK Parliament. Lords are not elected.
Hill quit his job as Financial Services Commissioner shortly after the results of the referendum came through on 24 June. He will receive a payoff worth about €300,000, according to some media reports.
The influential job, with responsibility for regulating London, the EU’s preeminent financial hub, will be taken on by Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commissioner for the Euro.
Hill was launching an initiative to encourage easier cross-border investment for start-ups. But the press-conference was dominated by questions about Brexit and the government team being put together by new Prime Minister Theresa May.
The new cabinet will be responsible for handling the tough Brexit negotiations to take the UK out of the EU. But Hill refused to give the promoted politicians any advice on how best to handle Brussels.
He said, “All the people taking up this task will have advice pouring into them from every orifice imaginable I don’t think it’s my job to add to that advice.
“We need to manage this process in an intelligent way and not in a way that means we don’t end up cutting our nose off to spite our face.”
He added, “At the end of this we need to come to a conclusion where Britain and the other 27 EU countries can enjoy a set of good, positive relationships.
“We all need strong economies that are generating growth and jobs and help tackle the challenges Europe faces.”
Before the referendum, Hill had warned that Brexit would damage the City of London’s standing as a leading financial centre.
Hill, who led the bloc’s Capital Markets Union strategy, said he would be going on holiday and had no plans for the future at this stage.
“I intend to do some gardening and some reading, some proper reading of history, instead of ghastly financial regulation,” he joked.
Hill was forced to endure two hearings in the European Parliament before finally being confirmed in the job.
But there is no chance that his expected successor Sir Julian King will snag a portfolio as important, given the British vote.
Commission reacts to new cabinet
After Hill’s conference, the Commission straight batted questions about the suitability of Boris Johnson as new foreign secretary.
Brexit-supporting Johnson, a former Brussels correspondent, is persona non grata in Brussels after comparing the EU to Hitler.
But a spokeswoman for the EU’s foreign affairs service said, “We are ready to cooperate with the new foreign minister. I don’t have any further assumptions to make.”
Commission First-Vice President Frans Timmermans had written a Facebook post yesterday, before Johnson got the job.
In it, he makes veiled jabs at Johnson, suggesting he had made comments that were “borderline racist”. This is thought to be a reference to Johnson’s suggestion US President Barack Obama may have had “an ancestral dislike” of Britain.
Commission Deputy Chief Spokesman Alexander Winterstein was asked about the post.
He said, “I did not read the Facebook post, which as you have said yourself, is the first Vice-President’s post on which I cannot helpfully comment.”
Quizzed over how best to ask Timmermans about his personal post, Winterstein said, “It’s a Facebook post. Maybe you want to post a proposal to the Facebook page.”