Friday 17 January 2020 6:30 am

Forget Big Ben, the real rows are ahead

One of the more ludicrous stories of the week concerns the efforts of a small band of pro-Brexit MPs to get the bells of Big Ben ringing out our departure from the EU at 11pm on 31 January.

Parliamentary authorities have done their best to shut down the scheme, saying it would be too expensive since a temporary floor would have to be installed in the tower, which is currently undergoing repair work.

Boris Johnson urged the public to “bung a bob for a Big Ben Brexit bong” but once again, the bureaucrats said there was no valid mechanism through which the authorities could accept crowd-funded cash for such a project.

So, no bongs on Brexit night. At the same time as this faintly surreal debate unfolded in Westminster, EU officials released a set of documents that outlined the Commission’s red lines for future trade negotiations.

At its heart is a very simple point: good market access is dependent upon a British commitment to follow EU rules — to the letter. T

his is not an unreasonable position for the EU to take, but nor is it a position with which the British government could possibly agree.

When it comes to goods, an alignment of standards is no particular hardship as there isn’t much advantage to be gained by deviating from internationally agreed rules on safety and labelling.

However, when it comes to financial services there’s simply no way the UK can agree to be a rule-taker. This position is recognised by even the most ardent former Remainers, including former chancellor George Osborne and outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney — who this week warned ministers not to compromise on financial regulatory alignment as the price of preferential trade terms.

The City is too big, too important and too international to be run by Brussels and the government must make this the reddest of red lines.

One of the first people to recognise this was the (Remain-supporting) former EU commissioner for financial services, Jonathan Hill, who told the House of Lords soon after the referendum that if Brexit was going to happen (as we now know it will) then the UK simply cannot submit to EU regulation of the City.

This means, of course, that an almighty row is on the horizon. When it kicks off, it will drown out even the bongs of Big Ben.

Main image: Getty

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