Banks and insurers have been warned by law firms to mind their language on Brexit once the formal campaign begins on April 15 to avoid falling foul of electoral rules. With the leave campaign warning it will be monitoring statements by big businesses very carefully, some lawyers have advised banks that even punchily-toned research notes about the risks of Brexit could land them in trouble. Julian Sattherthwaite reports.
Don't mention the B word. Many major banks avoiding all talk of Brexit. They won't offer a view ahead of the UK's June referendum on EU membership. It's widely thought that most of the big lenders want the country to stay in. A British exit would have unpredictable consquences for their operations in Europe. It might even force some of their international workforce to return home. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS BREAKINGVIEWS EUROPEAN EDITOR, JOHN FOLEY, SAYING: "Bank of America is reportedly asking staff to keep their mouths shut. That's probably because they realise that at the moment banks have not been fully rehabilitated in the eyes of the public, and saying what they want may actually cause a lot of people to do the exact opposite, so the wiser path is to keep their views to themselves." Some banks have dared to speak out. Citi and HSBC on record as favouring an IN vote. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have even donated to the REMAIN campaign. But there might be a simpler way of swinging some votes: (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS BREAKINGVIEWS EUROPEAN EDITOR, JOHN FOLEY, SAYING: "Financial services employs about two million people in the UK, which is an awful lot. It's much more than the steel industry, for example, which employs about 35 thousand. So what banks need to do is show that what they do contributes to the economy, and outside of London. Banks like JP Morgan and Deutsche are hiring people in places like Bournemouth, Belfast and Glasgow. They need to do more of that and they need to say 'if Britain stays we will hire more people outside the City of London', and then people might listen and they might care what these banks think." Not just banks keeping quiet. Major supermarkets also silent. With passions running high on both sides of the Brexit debate, they figure there's little to be gained by taking sides.