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: 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 article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Banks and loan losses in the pandemic turmoil

The current pandemic is shaking the financial system. How can banks react ? Is a consolidation of the financial system in Europe needed in order to respond to this crisis ? Will our economies suffer from this pandemic as much as they did in 2008 ? This week, Giuseppe Porcaro is joined live by Guntram Wolff and Nicolas Véron to discuss banks and loan losses in the pandemic turmoil.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 25, 2020
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

ONLINE ROUND TABLE: Future of the EU-UK science cooperation

How do we rebuild and keep the science cooperation between the EU and the UK?

Speakers: Michael Leigh and Beth Thompson Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 17, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

The Sound of Economics Live - The Brussels effect: How the European Union rules the world

This was a live recording of an episode of the Sound of Economics, Bruegel's podcast series. The discussion centered around the book of Anu Bradford, The Brussels Effect.

Speakers: Anu Bradford, Ashoka Mody, Giuseppe Porcaro and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 3, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Can hybrid threats disrupt the financial system?

From cashless payments to digital banking, finance has become intangible and global. But, while speed and convenience have made our international transactions easier, have we become more vulnerable? How can the EU respond to the increased risk of hybrid threats? This week, Nicholas Barrett is joined by Jukka Savolainen, Director of Community of Interest “Vulnerabilities and Resilience” at the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, and Maria Demertzis, to discuss the risks that hybrid threats pose to the financial system.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 17, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Realpolitik of the day after Brexit

Compromises hammered out in the next 11 months, by both British and European negotiators, will dictate the UK’s economic landscape for decades to come

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 31, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Britain faces a triple contradiction

If Boris Johnson can negotiate agreements that are better than the EU system, it would be a serious challenge for the 27

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 30, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

The science of Brexit

On Saturday morning, the United Kingdom will wake up outside the European Union. After 37 years of collaboration, how will Brexit affect research and innovation in Europe and in the UK? What should be the next steps undertaken by both in order to maintain the same level of cooperation? This week, Nicholas Barrett is joined by Maria Demertzis, Guntram Wolff and Michael Leigh, Senior Adjunct Professor of European Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, to discuss a post-Brexit agreement for research and innovation.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 29, 2020
Read article Download PDF
 

Book/Special report

A post-Brexit agreement for research and innovation

This report sets out what the Wellcome Trust and Bruegel have learned from a project to simulate a negotiation process between the UK and EU to create a post-Brexit research and innovation agreement. Our negotiating scenario assumed that the UK had left the EU with a withdrawal agreement, and that the negotiation was taking place during a ‘standstill’ transition period.

By: Michael Leigh, Beth Thompson and Reinhilde Veugelers Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: January 28, 2020
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

A post-Brexit agreement for research and innovation

What is the future of EU's and UK's relationship on research and innovation?

Speakers: Gina Dowding, Philippe Lamberts, Michael Leigh, Adrian Hayday, Clare Moody, Martin Muller, Joe Owen, Jaroslaw Pietras, Uta Staiger, André Sapir, Beth Thompson and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: January 28, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

How could net balances change in the next EU budget?

The gap between payments into the EU budget and EU spending in a particular country has importance when EU spending does not constitute European public goods, or there are risks for their improper use. I estimate that the Juncker Commission’s proposal for the next seven-year budget would lead to big reductions (as a share of GNI) in the net payments to most central European countries, while the changes for other countries seem small

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 23, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Banking after Brexit

Will Brexit damage Britain's financial services industry? Or is talk of its diminished status just a storm in a teacup? The City of London could move closer to Wall Street or it might become "Singapore-on-Thames". Nicholas Barrett talks to Rebecca Christie about banking after Brexit.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: January 16, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Understanding populism

Political identity is a group stereotype. As no camp corresponds exactly to our expectations, we choose the one to which we are closest and which is also the most distant from the ideas we reject

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 2, 2020
Load more posts