The EU needs the City more than the City needs the EU – debunking myths about the single market in financial services

The EU needs the City more than the City needs the EU – debunking myths about the single market in financial services

Stanislas Yassukovich is the author of the recently-published Two Lives, a Social & Financial Memoir.

Perhaps the biggest red herring spawned by the Remain campaign during the EU referendum was the issue of City access to the EU “single market in financial services”.

And this noxious fish is still being kept alive by City lobbyists, journalists, and even Government ministers. It threatens to waste valuable time in the Brexit negotiations. The fact is there is no single market in financial services in the EU. There is no banking union, no EU SEC, no European Stock Exchange – only the MiFID (standard of product quality), observed mostly in the breach on the Continent, but scrupulously in the UK.

Financial activity in the EU is regulated at national level, which is why the famous passport, allowing a holder to sell products cross border in the EU, is required for each separate member state. Brexit impacts those relatively few City houses who sell UCITs and SICAVs on the Continent. But most already have subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Dublin, which distribute Euro products through appropriate passports (continental investors do not buy £ products).

Prohibiting firms in non-EU countries from setting up such subsidiaries would be a gross violation of GATS, constituting a non-tariff barrier. In fact US asset managers use them. UK banks have shown little interest in penetrating Continental domestic, retail banking markets.

So the important sectors are the components of the City’s global, wholesale business: the interbank and forex markets; correspondent banking; capital market issuance and syndication; the various exchanges for securities, commodities and derivatives; L/C confirmation and trade finance; corporate, M&A, legal and tax advisory services, etc.

These constitute services “delivered within the member’s jurisdiction to buyers in other members”, to paraphrase WTO jargon. They are tariff-free. In fact most services are tariff-free and the WTO’s role in services is to identify and break down non-tariff barriers to trade in services (which usually stem from national regulation in the financial area).

These wholesale services are contracted and provided to banks, institutions and corporates all over the world and documented under English law. Is it conceivable that the UK would prevent EU counterparties from accessing these services because it was no longer a beneficiary of the EU passport system? UK regulators are hardly likely to require the many EU banks with branches and subsidiaries in London, where they base their international business, to re-apply for authorisation.

Would the EU prevent its institutions from dealing with the world’s premier financial centre? Can one really imagine a bank or other financial institution in Paris or Frankfort, not
represented in London, being barred from dealing in the interbank or forex markets in London, or hedging positions on LIFFE, or participating in a bond issue for Outer Mongolia?

Bear in mind that these same cities would like to replace London as a global financial centre – or do they only aspire to a role in a parochial EU, cut off from the rest of the financial world? For if one follows the logic of those claiming Brexit will impact all these City services, one is suggesting that EU financial institutions are only capable of dealing with each other.

Finally, there is the threat of London based clearing and settlement of transactions in Euro denominated instruments being required to move to the Eurozone. Enforcement of a move would require placing restrictions on Eurozone banks, impacting on the convertibility of its currency. But trading would be largely unaffected. After all, when Eurobond trading concentrated in London, clearing was with Euroclear in Brussels and Cedel in Luxembourg.

Those responsible for the dire predictions of job and business losses in the City post-Brexit should reflect on its unique attributes as a global centre, the nature of its wholesale services, the way in which they are accessed, how they are provided to passport-less counterparties all over the world, and how any international institution could function without them.

The EU needs the City far more than the City needs the EU. If it maintains regulatory standards tailored to its own needs, and continues to attract international skills – as it has always done, the City can look forward to an even brighter future as an independent, global financial centre.