Financial services in a post-Brexit world

Pelted by the unrelenting rain, a small band of determined delegates trooped to the furthest side of the conference campus to discuss a dirty word which, according to the agenda, has no slot for debate in plenary: Brexit. Hosted by TheCityUK and Fabian Society, the risks and opportunities were debated in a room as grey and dingy as many spirits. Seema Malhorta MP and Alison McGovern MP provided a Labour voice not oft heard during conference so far; that of supporters of business and particularly of the financial services industry. Balanced and pragmatic on the need to have clarity on the terms by which we will negotiate, they differed on how we create that vision. Ms Malhorta called for a cross-party convention bringing together trades unions, business, the public and third sectors to carve out a consensual approach. Ms McGovern instead called for a political response from the left, one which galvanises socialist and social democrat actors across the length of Europe to develop a solution that works for the UK and the EU.

Miles Celic, CEO of TheCityUK, wanted clarity as a prerequisite for promoting and protecting the economy and indeed the country’s biggest industry and export. His desire for a deal that closely reflects (as far as it can) what we currently have, suggests that we will have our work cut out. Mr Celic dismissed a Norwegian or Swiss model in favour of a bespoke UK model if we are to truly make Brexit work for the UK – and for the remainder of the EU.

The EU’s complex web of regulation will need to be delicately re-negotiated according to Clifford Chance’s Christopher Bates whose concern for the fate of the Brexit negotiations took into account not only the financial services industry but also the industries that thrive around it. He underlined that time is not on our side with two years passing quickly with much to do once Article 50 is enacted. Of particular concern is the need to not only plan for the extraction of the UK from the EU but also the transition period after. He warned that the UK is bound to leave the EU without a deal. How’s that for clarity!

The validity of the referendum outcome was once again a hot topic of debate as delegates asked questions of the panel. What if, when negotiation are complete, the UK will be negatively affected to the point where implementation of the deal will be damaging to the economy and British people? If that is the case, then the negotiators won’t have done their jobs properly according to Mr Celic. Perhaps many in the audience lamented that if politicians and policymakers had negotiated and communicated better at an earlier point in the debate, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Michael Stott

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search