The European Union has reportedly rejected an ambitious trade deal put forward by the City of London, which hoped to secure a post-Brexit deal for Britain’s financial services sector.
According to separate reports from the Financial Times and Reuters, the European Commission believes future arrangements should not be based on a new trade deal but on the principle of “equivalence” – the limited and revocable access afforded to third country institutions.
“There was a strong commission message that there would be no special deal,” a EU source was quoted as saying on Wednesday (31 January).
“The UK is being told from the beginning what the situation is.”
Since Britain voted in favour of leaving the EU 19 months ago, a number of major banks have warned that London’s status as Europe’s financial centre could be jeopardised. The UK is home to the world’s largest gathering of banks and hosts the biggest commercial insurance market, while 37% of Europe’s financial assets are managed in London, amounting to a combined £5.3tn (€6tn).
A number of major banks have already planned to move part of their European operations to the continent after March 2019, with Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt are among the destinations of choice.
Officials from the City of London have repeatedly urged the government to ensure it agrees a deal that would see London retain easy access to the EU market, an option Barnier has categorically ruled out.
Under the proposal put to the EU, which had been endorsed by Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis, the City had suggested the UK and the EU would allow cross-border trade in financial services, provided each side preserved regulatory standards in line with international guidelines.
Such standards, the proposal added, would be maintained by maintaining a close-knit relationship between policymakers and regulators in Britain and in the EU.
However, Brussels appears to have categorically dismissed any suggestion Britain could retain similar levels of access to the single market whilst exiting the bloc.
“They have made it very clear to us that this is unacceptable to them,” a senior British finance executive, who attended one of the meetings with the Commission, was quoted as saying.
“This was our best and frankly only proposal. We don’t have a plan B.”
Michel Barnier has been strident in his pronoucements the City of London will not be granted preferential treatment once Britain leaves the EU.
The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator said it was inevitable British banks and financial services firms would lose passporting rights once the UK leaves the single market.
The European banking passport system allows banks and other financial institutions the flexibility to operate in an EU country, or a member state of the European Economic Area (EEA), to conduct business across the union.
On Wednesday (31 January), it emerged Brussels reportedly no longer sees room for discussion with Britain on passporting. Theresa May’s government has previously stated that undermining Britain’s position as Europe’s financial hub could be as detrimental to the former as it is to the latter, but the European Commission appears to think otherwise.
According to the FT, the 27 remaining members believe a smaller City would instead be beneficial for financial stability and to develop capital markets in the bloc.