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The confusion of Brexit

I often see headlines saying “Britain is leading Europe". Britain is leading Europe in what? Fraud, tax avoidance, political shenanigans and more. Such headlines always make me laugh, as the media is writing as though Britain is still part of Europe. Did anyone forget about #Brexit?

Britain has nothing to do with Europe anymore, in terms of rules and regulations. This hits home when you travel and the border guards challenge your passport and travel plans. Suddenly, after half a century of open borders, you’re an alien.

Fairysnuff.

But today’s Britain is a little schizophrenic. It wants to be European on the one hand, and independent on the other. This is no better exemplified than what I see in finance and financial services regulation.

Britain feels it still leads the world in finance, but some may differ and the result of the Brexit vote is pretty much what I thought. Everyone’s moved to Dublin. According to Ernst & Young (EY), Dublin is the most popular destination for staff relocations and new hubs, followed by Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Paris. In fact, if you didn’t know, EY run a Financial Services Brexit Tracker and, in their latest update, find that:

  • The number of financial services firms to have moved or that plan to move operations, staff and assets from the UK to Europe as a result of Brexit has stabilised over the last 12 months
  • Since the UK’s EU referendum, 44% (97 out of 222) of the largest UK financial services firms* have announced plans to move some UK operations and/or staff to the EU – a figure that nearly doubled between March 2017 (53 out of 222, 24%) and March 2021 (95 out of 222, 43%)
  • Since the referendum, 24 firms have publicly declared they will transfer just over £1.3trn of UK assets to the EU – a figure which has remained broadly flat over the past 18 months
  • In the last quarter, the number of Brexit-related staff relocations to the EU has been further revised down, from 7,400 in December 2021 to just over 7,000 as March 2022 closes – significantly down from the peak of 12,500 announced in 2016

Having said that, their key point is that “while many worst-case-scenario contingency plans have not been enacted, EY anticipates ongoing operational and staff moves from financial services firms across Europe as Brexit increasingly becomes part of a broader conversation about strategic business drivers and operating models.”

So, London has not lost its crown as the leading financial centre of Europe and the world.

This is reinforced by the latest Global Financial Centres Index, which makes clear London is still Europe’s leading financial centre. Having said that, it has lost ground on other global centres in recent years, losing ground to New York and Hong Kong.

Maybe this is why the interim Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi – yes, there will be a new UK government (soon) – has laid out a Britain with a focus on London as its financial centre post-Brexit. This was announced in a Mansion House speech last month that many of you may have missed. The speech introduced the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which will reform many years of EU compliance and integration.

The Financial Services and Markets Bill will enable the reform of Solvency II, which could lead to a reduction in excessive capital buffers and give insurers more flexibility to invest in long-term assets like infrastructure. It will also increase the competitiveness of the UK’s wholesale capital markets, and reinforces our position as a leading centre for technology by supporting the safe adoption of certain types of stablecoins as a means of payment.

The financial regulators will also have greater responsibility for setting the rules that govern UK financial services, and for the first time, they will be given a new secondary objective to promote growth and competitiveness of the sector. This will complement their existing objectives ensuring the safety and soundness of firms, protecting and enhancing the integrity of the UK financial system, promoting competition in the interests of consumers, and ensuring that consumers receive an appropriate degree of protection .

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak, who drew up the plans before he resigned in July, said the changes could lead to a “Big Bang 2.0” in reference to the deregulatory period of the 1980s that led to huge growth in the UK financial services sector.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi said this was “a landmark day” for the City and promised to seize on the “benefits of Brexit to ensure the financial sector works in the interests of British people and businesses”.

Financial commentator Chris Skinner said: “whoopee doo”.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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