Brexit in Copenhagen: John

For the second part in our Brexit in Copenhagen series, we speak with 61-year-old John Lees, who we met at Bar Lidkøb on Vesterbro. John’s take on Brexit was very interesting; seen entirely from a business perspective, rather than an emotional/personal one.


The main photoshoot is over; the interview begins. With the fire roaring in the background, John sits down with a glass of whiskey and begins to talk. We try our best to ignore the video cameras recording this Behind the Scenes segment as we turn our attention to the purpose of our interaction: Brexit.

“I’ve little to say about Cameron and his accountability for the current mess,” explains John when asked who’s to blame for instigating Brexit. “He was responding to domestic political matters, centring on a thrusting UKIP focusing hard on “his” Tory heartland.

“My ire is more pertinently aimed at the May government and its handling of the de-merging of UK Plc from its larger, but fractured, partner, the EU.”


Brexit in Copenhagen - John Lees photoshoot

Copenhagen Photographer Matthew James Harrison photographs British expat in Copenhagen John Lees


It opens up a whole new world of what’s good and bad for the British people

A lot of people talk about immigration; about the NHS; about taking back control; about corrupt politicians in their ivory towers; about jobs for British workers, and so on. So to talk about the UK as a business is very interesting because it opens up a whole new world of what’s good and bad for the British people. To explain things more clearly, John begins by using his own private UK-registered company as an example of accountability and consequences.

“As Chairman, I and my fellow board members carry legal responsibilities on which onerous liabilities ride. In particular, I am accountable to the owners of, and investors in, the company we are seeking to acquire, as well as our own, plus both side’s, auditors & solicitors. I am expected to act reasonably and in the best interests of our business, our employees, our creditors and trading partners and, of course, our customers. If I fail to do so I run several risks:

  • My company (ABS UK Ltd) could go bankrupt and I lose everything I have worked for over the last 30 years.
  • The community of colleagues who sustain the relationship between the customer and the company risk losing jobs, pensions, cars, careers, houses and self-respect and the responsibility for that falls on my shoulders.
  • The trading partners who depend on my company to buy their products and services and then pay their bills also risk redundancies, retrenchment and ultimately their own bankruptcy if I fail to act prudently.
  • Those trading partners, should they fail, also threaten their own suppliers, so like the ripples on a lake, the shockwaves spread.
  • The customers who depend on my company are also at risk. As finance is at the heart of a business, the product we supply on lease will not be supported after my company’s collapse. Yet the finance company will still need to be paid, but now for products that, fairly quickly, won’t work. The customer faces this financial burden, with all its risks, alone and often must make commercial decisions that harm their staff, stakeholders and customers as a consequence.


Brexit in Copenhagen interview

Copenhagen Photographer Matthew James Harrison interviews British expat in Copenhagen John Lees

In truth, it’s consequence, consequence, consequence if we don’t do our job well.

If we are proven to have failed the personal consequences are:

A) We can be forced to make good any or all financial losses incurred by any of the above personally.

B) Our personal assets would be seized, the sale of which would be used to make good the losses of others.

C) As a consequence of A, we board members can, and often are, barred from taking up positions of responsibility as directors or company officials.

D) Even if none of the above applies, the directors will most certainly lose their houses if they are mortgaged.

E) Finally, in extreme cases, directors go to jail, particularly if known risks were not taken account of and dealt with in a clearly defined way.

So now let’s compare and contrast the above with our government.

  • Chris Grayling has mishandled billions as Transport Secretary.
  • International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has acted like a maverick and a commercial innocent (I’m being as kind as I can be here). 
  • Boris Johnson has lied repeatedly to the house and UK Plc.
  • Theresa May has made binding commitments to parliament and then ignored them.
  • And as a group, the Brexiteers have placed the dogma of Brexit before the best interests of UK Plc

Compared with those faced by ABS UK Ltd. directors, the consequences for those mentioned above, for not doing their jobs well, are precisely nil. Their parliamentary pensions and privileges are guaranteed and they are immune from any form of reprimand (save that of the voters) or financial loss. Neither can their assets be seized or future roles be closed to them.

Finally, if I were to embark on actions that permitted for financial risks for my stakeholders to rack up into the billions of pounds, and if I were to be unable at the very last minute to respond to the queries my creditors would raise, I would be bound by stringent standards and dire consequences, both commercial and personal.

And if I were to screw up, answering questions from a House of Commons Committee would be the least of my worries.


Brexit in Copenhagen Portrait of John Lees

A portrait of British expat and Copenhagen resident John Lees, for the Copenhagen Photographers Brexit project


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