Sir Paul Marshall, left, donated £100,000 to Vote Leave. Lord Hill, right, Britain’s former commissioner to the EU, said it was time for the Leave and Remain sides to discuss departure practicalities
Sir Paul Marshall, left, donated £100,000 to Vote Leave. Lord Hill, right, Britain’s former commissioner to the EU, said it was time for the Leave and Remain sides to discuss departure practicalities © Patrick Balls

A prominent Brexit-supporting hedge fund founder and the UK’s former top official in Brussels are co-operating on a project to bring together Leavers and Remainers and discuss a “constructive” Brexit.

Paul Marshall, co-founder of the $29bn hedge fund Marshall Wace and Jonathan Hill, Britain’s former commissioner to the EU, are organising a conference in London for leaders from British universities, finance, business, industry and trade.

Conservative peer Lord Hill, who resigned last summer after fighting for Britain to stay in the EU, said it was time for both sides to sit down and discuss the practicalities of departure.

“The language of the debate, polarised between catastrophe and liberation, is part of the problem. For me a catastrophe was the Black Death or the second world war,” he told the Financial Times in an interview at Marshall Wace’s offices by Sloane Square.

It was time for politicians to stop arguing about “backward-looking” issues such as the £350m a week that Vote Leave promised for the NHS or other public services. “People who say there will be no economic impact of leaving other than a kind of ‘happy pills for all’ are delusional.” But equally things would not be “catastrophically worse”, he said.

Leavers and Remainers need to stop criticising each other and start thinking about the future, he added. “There are a lot of conversations going on but they are all going on in isolation.”

Sir Paul said: “I go into the business world and people are just getting on with it,” “And that’s what we need to do for the country.”

His motive in organising the conference was to bring “a lot of people from finance, universities, manufacturing together . . . [who are] focusing on the opportunities that lie ahead”.

Lord Hill said he was “obsessed by the fact that we should be putting our intellectual capacity in Whitehall, in politics, in business, in universities, into thinking about the future and thinking as well about some of the things the British government could do to enable business to flourish”.

This is a change of tone for Lord Hill. In the run-up to the EU referendum last June, he warned that leaving the EU would be “bad for Britain and bad for London.”

Sir Paul, who used to be one of the most generous donors to the Liberal Democrats, told the FT that Tim Farron’s party had “lost the plot” over Europe. He donated £100,000 to Vote Leave and gave a small donation to Michael Gove’s failed leadership campaign.

Ian Wace, the other co-founder of Marshall Wace, backed the Remain side but said he will go to the conference and fully supports its aims.

The split between Sir Paul and Mr Wace mirrored attitudes in the hedge fund industry, with managers on both sides of the Brexit debate.

The Prosperity UK conference will be co-sponsored by two think-tanks — the Legatum Institute and Open Europe — and will be held on April 26.

Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, and Lord Wolfson, chief executive of Next and chairman of Open Europe, will take part and are on the advisory board.

The board also includes the Marquis of Salisbury, another Marshall Wace partner, Anthony Clake and the vice-chancellors of Cardiff and Exeter universities.

Senior cabinet ministers including Brexit secretary David Davis and business secretary Greg Clark are expected to speak at the gathering.

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Ian Wace will go to the conference and fully supports its aims; and that co-sponsor Legatum is a think-tank, not an investment group

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