The City of London is critical to the EU – and the EU knows it

The City of London is critical to the EU – and the EU knows it

Reading London’s great free newspapers to-and-fro’ work every day is like a daily form of Brexiteer masochism. You know that the cutting Brexit-induced headlines of ruination are designed to hurt, but you also know that buried deep in the cave of doom there will sometimes be reasons to be cheerful. Sadly, sometimes there isn’t even a cave, there’s just doom.

BrexitCentral’s sharp eye rightly pointed out the glaring omission by the Evening Standard to even report on the recent good news that London not only retained its position as the world’s financial centre, but extended its lead – ‘despite Brexit’, as the tired leitmotif goes among Remain-supporting journalists. It’s become a safe caveat for Remainers, and ensures that their echo-chamber of righteous purity remains intact even if they have to report on positive Brexit news stories.

This oversight from the ex-Chancellor-turned-newspaper-editor, George Osborne, really is perplexing. That acid test that he set himself when he took over at the paper, ‘is it good for our readers and good for London?’, could quite easily be re-written as, ‘is it good for our EU leaders and good for the Commission?’

Britain has many good wares to offer the world, and indeed the EU, post-Brexit, but the City is truly a global leader in financial services as confirmed recently by the Global Financial Centres Index. In fact, London came top on five key measures of the index: business environment, human capital, infrastructure, financial sector development, and reputation. Despite Brexit.

I suspect that there is good reason that the Government is yet to publish its position on financial services, not least because it is one of Britain’s strongest hands, but also because of the sheer complexity of the industry.

Of course, whilst the Government holds back on playing its strongest suit, the vacuum is currently being filled with accusations that the Government doesn’t know what it’s doing and is fudging Brexit. These shouts are as predictable as they are tiring.

So, what we know is that the Government is keeping its counsel and some Remainers are using this space to infer chaos and incompetency. What would be infinitely more useful would be to actually look at what we have to offer, and the strength of our considerable hand. It’s quite remarkable:

  • UK-based financial services account for 40 per cent of Europe’s assets under management, and 60 per cent of its capital markets business;
  • UK-based banks provide more than £1.1tn of loans to other EU member states;
  • There are 5,500 British firms using passports into Europe, and over 8,000 EU and EEA passports operating in the UK.

Let’s just ponder this, for a moment. 40 and 60 per cent of the EU’s asset management and capital markets run by British firms; UK banks providing loans equivalent of around 9 per cent of the EU’s entire economy [calculated on 2016 prices using IMF data on GDP]; and, nearly 70 per cent more EU passports operating in the UK than British financial passports in Europe. These figures are staggering and should heavily underline our financial importance to the European Union. As Mark Carney said in November last year, “The UK is effectively the investment banker for Europe”.

London is critical to the liquidity of the European Union. If Brussels cuts off its nose to spite its face, do EU firms wake up New York financiers during the night and ask them to rummage around their drawers for the capital they need for a crucial and imminent investment?

Or, do they look to the world’s leading financial hub, which happens to be in its time zone, and has an unparallelled range of expertise and services, including international insurance, derivatives, forex and fund management; as well as the complimentary legal and accounting services. There is no other EU country in the top 10 in the global financial index. Frankfurt, which comes in at number 11, has a smaller banking district than Canary Wharf.

Boris Johnson’s intervention in the Telegraph last month demonstrated once again that to have optimism and vision for your country post-Brexit is a cardinal sin among some Remain politicians and parts of the media. Apparently it’s only the EU that is allowed to puff its chest and bargain hard to get the best deal for their side.

We should bargain hard, because the future of the EU depends on a thriving London. Frankfurt and Paris (26th on the index) will not develop competing financial infrastructure overnight. Indeed, one wonders with the regulatory-obsessed EU if they ever will.

But these statistics matter, and the EU knows that. They know how important London is, and they know that some sort of relationship of enhanced equivalence will ensure good market access for both parties.

The worst-case scenario is no-deal. Whilst Britain certainly does not want that, we must remember that 90 per cent of world trade is conducted under WTO terms – the no-deal scenario. As the financial regulations expert, Barnabas Reynolds, has pointed out:

“The reality is that, even in the absence of an agreement, almost all participants in the financial sector—both in the EU and the UK—will be able to continue much as they did before Brexit, but greater complexity and expense are likely to be involved.”

When you cut through the noise and soberly assess the data, it is difficult to conclude that there won’t be a trading arrangement that is not mutually beneficial, given our identical starting place.

Whether it be goods or services, tariff or non-tariff barriers, extra taxes and regulation only serve to damage both participants. The erection of these barriers would be a political decision, and it would certainly not be the British who inflicted these wounds. One can only judge that the EU will not be masochistic.