Opinion

Brexit and Finance: Brace for No Impact?

Amid the daily high drama of Brexit, it is easy to lose track of the structural shifts, or lack thereof, that may be associated with the UK’s possible departure from the European Union. One of them, and not the least, is the potential impact on the European and global financial system.

By: and Date: October 14, 2019 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

A version of this opinion piece was also published on ispionline.it

Amid the daily high drama of Brexit, it is easy to lose track of the structural shifts, or lack thereof, that may be associated with the UK’s possible departure from the European Union. One of them, and not the least, is the potential impact on the European and global financial system. London is currently the undisputed financial hub of Europe of the broader region encompassing the Middle East and Africa; together with New York, it is one of the two still-leading financial centres worldwide, despite the ongoing rise of Asia and especially China. How does an event as momentous as Brexit interfere with this critical regional and global role of the United Kingdom?

The answer so far is: not much, and looking forward, probably not much more. Massive as the political shock of Brexit is, the European and global financial systems are intriguingly resilient to it.

To understand why, it is necessary to go beyond the in/out dichotomy that dominates the Brexit debate, and to understand at a more granular level what changes or doesn’t at different points of the different scenarios. Seen through the lens of the financial sector, the complex arborescence of possible UK futures boils down to two relatively simple observations.

First, the really decisive choice for the UK, from a financial-sector standpoint, is not whether or not to leave the European Union, but whether or not to leave its Internal (or single) market. The single market is closely associated with the EU construct and is defined by compliance by EU law, but its boundaries are broader than the Union’s. For example, Norway is in the single market without being an EU member state, and the same would be true of the UK during the transition period defined by the Withdrawal Agreement endorsed almost a year ago by Theresa May’s government. While being or not in the Union makes a major difference for UK officials who will no longer sit at the EU policymaking table if the UK leaves, it makes little differences to financial firms as long as single market membership is preserved, with the regulatory “passports” that come with it. So far, beyond responding to specific requests from supervisory authorities, most financial firms have appear to act on the baseline assumption that the UK is staying in the single market over their business planning horizon, and have correspondingly not made major changes to their operations even as they have sought new licenses to operate in the European Union outside of the UK.

Second, leaving the European single market would be severely detrimental to the UK as a regional and global financial hub. The loss of passporting rights would mean, to summarise a complex arrays of different situations, that the UK will no longer be the best place in its time zone to conduct financial business. In the benchmarking with the best competing locations within the post-Brexit European Union, the comparative advantages of the UK, significant as they are in matters such as language, culture, and the legal environment, would not be enough to offset the disadvantage of not being in the single market. As a consequence, new investment would be overwhelmingly directed elsewhere than to the UK, and there would most likely also be some direct transfers of activity from London to other European locations – in contrast to what has happened so far.

As a consequence, it appears highly likely that the UK will remain in the single market, even if it ends up leaving the European Union. The 2016 referendum was about leaving the EU, not the single market. Leaving the single market is too much pain for too little gain. And if the UK stays in the single market, its financial sector can and probably will keep its leading position regionally and globally.

If however, by an improbable twist of political dynamics, the UK does leave the European single market – a “hard Brexit” as the expression tends to be used – then the consequences may be dire for the UK, but will not be disruptive from a European let alone global perspective. Summarising again a lot, this is because the core of the City of London is a set of firms that are not structurally dependent on the UK: most are international arms of firms headquartered in the United States, or in Asia, or indeed in Continental Europe. For these firms, if London loses its edge, relocating elsewhere will be annoying and costly but by no means impossible. And one can be confident that European and other authorities will do what is needed to facilitate an orderly transition, because they have no interest in financial instability.

There are a number of challenges in today’s world which could turn out to be transformative for the global financial system. Brexit is not one of them.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read about event
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
2
13:00

European banks: under global competitive pressure?

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 2 - European banks have lost stature and remain generally low-profitability, low-valuation in comparison to their global peers. Is that a problem? If so, what can EU policymakers do to address it?

Speakers: José Antonio Álvarez Álvarez, Mairead McGuinness and Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Palais des Academies, Rue Ducale 1
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Banks post-Brexit: regulatory divergence or parallel tracks?

Post-Brexit UK bank regulation is not likely to compromise on international standards, but will place greater emphasis on competition, making close UK-EU dialogue essential.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 6, 2021
Read article Download PDF More by this author
 

External Publication

European Parliament

UK banks in international markets

Implications of UK-euro area divergence in regulation and supervisory practice

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: European Parliament, Finance & Financial Regulation, Testimonies Date: June 25, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

Accounting for climate policies in Europe’s sovereign debt market

Sovereign debt will be vital in stimulating sustainable investment, but information is lacking on how green public spending actually is.

By: Marta Domínguez-Jiménez and Alexander Lehmann Topic: Energy & Climate, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: May 3, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Taking stock of global sustainability reporting

This closed-door event will discuss standards for the measurement and disclosure of climate-related exposures.

Speakers: Carole Crozat, Sonja Gibbs, Piers Haben, Lucile de la Jonquière, Alexander Lehmann, Sara Lovisolo, Fayyaz Muneer and Lee White Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: April 20, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

Urgent reform of the EU resolution framework is needed

In this blog, the authors argue that two aspects of the European resolution framework are particularly in need of reform – the bail-in regime and the resolution mechanism for cross-border banks – and propose a reform of both.

By: Mathias Dewatripont, Lucrezia Reichlin and André Sapir Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: April 16, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

New EU insolvency rules could underpin business rescue in the COVID-19 aftermath

Corporate bankruptcies are set to rise in the context of COVID-19. EU countries should speed up adoption of recent insolvency reforms and, in addition, offer consistent treatment to restructuring finance.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 24, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Financial services: The Brexit dust begins to settle

The phase of greatest Brexit-related uncertainty for the European financial sector ended on 1 January. Although too early to discern more than the broadest contours of the future landscape, it is increasingly apparent that London will be less dominant than before.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 11, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

The economics of biodiversity

Join us in conversation with Sir Partha Dasgupta and Frans Timmermans to mark the publication of The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

Speakers: Sir Partha Dasgupta, Maria Demertzis, Frans Timmermans and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: March 3, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Working Paper

COVID-19 credit-support programmes in Europe’s five largest economies

This paper assesses COVID-19 credit-support programmes in five of the largest European economies, and examines how countries have dealt with trade-offs raised by the programmes.

By: Julia Anderson, Francesco Papadia and Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 24, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

The double irony of the new UK-EU trade relationship

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed between the European Union and the United Kingdom goes against six decades of UK efforts to avoid being economically disadvantaged in Europe. Tracking the evolution of the EU-UK relationship over the last 60 years can help in understanding this.

By: André Sapir Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 12, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

External Publication

Hong Kong’s Intermediary Role on Funding the BRI: How does it fare against Singapore?

A look into the intermediary role of Hong Kong in financing cross-border Belt and Road Initiative projects and compare it with Singapore, a similar offshore financial center and competitor.

By: Alicia García-Herrero, Gary Ng and Hanrui LI Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: November 4, 2020
Load more posts