A pro-Brexit supporter demonstrates in central London, Britain, December 9 2018. Picture: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ
A pro-Brexit supporter demonstrates in central London, Britain, December 9 2018. Picture: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ

Davos — The CFO  of Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered believes a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU could be the only way to end a paralysing parliamentary deadlock on future ties with the bloc.

Speaking to Reuters at the Global Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, Andy Halford said there was a “reasonably compelling argument” for handing back decision-making power to the people, in view of Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to unite warring politicians behind her controversial EU divorce deal.

Senior bank executives have until now avoided comment on the possible merits of a second referendum, after several large institutions drew criticism for their strong financial backing of the failed campaign to stay in the EU in 2016.

“The Houses of Parliament are there democratically to represent the people and therefore ostensibly the decision should lie with them,” Halford said.

“However, in a situation where there is a gridlock in that body ...  going directly to the people and hearing exactly what the people would want to do now that they have had two more years of information being fed to them — that has a strong argument for being a way forward,” he said.

StanChart is one of several global lenders grappling with the redistribution of functions and staff to multiple EU outposts in a bid to keep business running smoothly after Britain leaves the EU on March 29.

The activities reflect months of planning aimed at protecting clients in the event of a disorderly British exit, which Halford said would “seriously risk momentum in the economy”.

"The worst thing would be to crash out in a way that has not been planned for,” he said.

German and European regulators have granted StanChart permission to convert its Frankfurt branch into a fully-fledged subsidiary, to mitigate the impact of the loss of critical “passporting” rights which enabled non-EU banks headquartered in Britain to do business across the single market, Reuters previously reported.

Halford said the bank already had about 100 people in Frankfurt and was looking to move “several tens” more there.

Halford has served as StanChart’s finance director since July 2014 and has sat on the board of British retailer Marks & Spencer for the last five years.