Friday 26 February 2021 4:14 pm

London to lose out to New York under draft EU financial services agreement

The City of London’s finance industry would be worse off than New York under an early draft for a cooperation agreement in financial services between Britain and the EU.

An early draft of the memorandum of understanding (MoU), first seen by Reuters, has less substance than a deal the EU agreed with the United States in 2016, industry officials said.

Britain’s financial services industry has been largely cut off from the EU, its biggest customer, since a Brexit transition period ended on Dec. 31 as the sector is not covered by the UK-EU trade deal.

Read more: One-in-four UK exporters looking to cut out EU customers post-Brexit

Trading in EU shares and derivatives, for example, has already left Britain for continental Europe.

Both sides are committed to agreeing an MoU by the end of March on regular, informal talks about financial rules and market supervision.

“This is the start of a negotiation – the Commission proposed text is clearly more limited than the UK ambition,” said Chris Bates, a financial services lawyer at Clifford Chance.

‘Outcome-based’

Brussels can grant direct market access for foreign financial companies if it deems their home market rules are as robust as the EU’s own standards, a system known as “equivalence.”

A person familiar with Britain’s negotiating position said the UK focus is on making sure the MoU provides transparency and appropriate dialog when it comes to adopting, suspending and withdrawing equivalence decisions.

Currently, the EU can in theory scrap equivalence decisions with just 30 days’ notice.

Under the U.S. deal with the EU, equivalence is treated as “outcomes-based.”

Read more: City of London’s prospects as global derivatives capital remain bright

Britain has called for EU equivalence also to be outcomes based, which would ensure that the focus would be on whether financial rules in Britain and the EU produce the same result.

But there is no mention of outcomes-based equivalence in the draft EU-UK memorandum.

The EU text is deliberately more unambitious that the U.S. agreement and does not reflect even the current depth of relationship with bilateral MoUs already signed between individual regulators in Britain and the EU, one financial sector source said.

But industry officials also said that even the draft document now circulating would be a start in rebuilding trust between both sides.

“It is important to establish some framework for a regulatory dialog even if there are low expectations of any movement on new equivalence decisions any time soon,” Bates said.

The financial industry wants Britain to include a provision for consultations with industry as part of the regulatory dialog, the first source said.

“The MoU is on the lighter side of what the City wants,” a second financial sector source said, adding that this might make little difference given that Britain is likely to get only limited equivalence.

The European Commission declined to comment on the document. The UK finance ministry had no immediate comment.

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Brussels has already made it clear that even an agreed MoU will not automatically lead to more EU access for London’s finance industry beyond time-limited permission to clear EU derivatives trades.

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