A PROMINENT Brexiteer has berated a senior church leader who tackled the UK Government over analysis that showed Paris had overtaken London as the home of Europe’s biggest stock market.

Speaking in Parliament, Tory former Cabinet minister and long-time worshipper Lord Lilley said he had never heard a bishop complain the stock market was “not high enough”.

The Conservative peer questioned whether Church of England clerics “now propose the worship of mammon or is it simply a delayed anti-Brexit point”, which he argued was not their role.

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The scathing remarks levelled at the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, in the usually civil surroundings of the upper chamber led to dramatic cries of “ooh” from the red benches.

The combative comments came after the senior cleric raised in Parliament recent figures produced by Bloomberg which revealed the French stock market now had a combined value of 2.823 trillion US dollars, marginally above the UK stock market which is worth 2.821 trillion US dollars in total.

In contrast, five years ago, when the UK voted to leave the EU, British stocks were worth 1.5 trillion more than France.

The fact that smaller and consumer-focused firms have been hit hard by an economic downturn, made worse by the energy crisis, high inflation, and recent market volatility, has dragged down the collective value of the UK’s listed companies, Bloomberg said.

At the same time, a former Bank of England policymaker, Michael Saunders, told Bloomberg TV the UK economy had been “permanently damaged” by Brexit, because it reduced the country’s potential output and resulted in reduced investment into UK businesses.

Meanwhile, France’s stock market has bolstered by luxury retail companies enjoying a post-Covid spending boost.

Responding to a question raised by the bishop over the change, Treasury minister Baroness Penn pointed to the Global Financial Centre Index, which showed London is the second-highest ranked financial centre in the world after New York, while Paris was 10th.

She added: “The UK continues to be the pre-eminent financial centre for derivatives and foreign exhange trading. In equities, when looking at all equities instruments, the UK almost doubles France’s total market capitalisation at 6.2 trillion US dollars.

“To support the UK’s competitiveness, Government is undertaking ambitious reforms to keep pace with innovation.”

Pressing the minister, Smith said: “I totally accept that there are various people trying to analyse the levels of trading.”

He argued there had been “a wake-up call” last year when there were indications that Amsterdam had overtaken London as the premier financial trading centre.

Smith said: “In the light of us trying to build an economy which properly rewards our workers, which protects our environment, what is the Government doing to increase confidence in London’s reputation in financial trading and as the premier stock market?”

Lady Penn said the Government was taking a series of steps including introducing reforms “to make us more competitive”.

“The Government’s ambition is to make London the premier place for green finance to ensure that our financial markets take into account the challenge of climate change so that we then can, across the whole of our economy, ensure that we are pursuing green growth.”

Lord Lilley, who was a vocal Leave campaigner, said: “Having lived and worshipped for nearly 40 years in the diocese of the bishop of St Albans, I have benefited greatly over the years from the spiritual advice I have received from his predecessors and my local clergy.”

But he added: “This is the first time I have ever heard a bishop of the Church of England complain that the stock market is not high enough.”

Sparking laughter, he added: “Is that because the bishops have ceased to worry about spreading Christianity and now propose the worship of mammon or is it simply a delayed anti-Brexit point, which is not the role of the bishops?”

Lady Penn said: “I can’t speak for the bishop.”

She pointed out there were 2.3 million jobs supported by the financial services sector with two-thirds of these outside of London.