As Brexit talks loom, EU dodges early clash with City of London

New EU rules on derivatives trading will not reopen an old battle over clearing between Britain and the eurozone.

The European Union will not pick an immediate fight with the City of London over its right to clear euro-denominated securities, EU officials said on Monday (27 February), as Britain prepares to trigger the process of quitting the bloc.

On a day when the EU executive made public tough language on Brussels’ policing of financial services providers from non-EU states – Britain’s likely status in 2019 – the officials said new EU rules on derivatives trading would not reopen an old battle over clearing between Britain and the eurozone.

“Territorial restrictions are definitely not going to be part of the next review,” one EU official told Reuters, referring to revisions to be proposed by the European Commission in the coming weeks to the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR), the main EU legislation on derivatives trade.

A second official confirmed that was the case.

Britain won an EU court case two years ago to defeat a bid by the European Central Bank to deprive London of its leading role in clearing euro-denominated securities. The ECB wants such trades to be cleared in one of the 19 eurozone countries.

UK wins right to continue euro clearing

The UK has won a court battle against the European Central Bank which will allow London clearing houses to continue handling large euro transactions.

With Britain losing the protections of membership of the EU single market on Brexit, many experts assume euro authorities will make a new attempt to pull back clearing from London.

But with concern growing that ill temper may sour next month’s expected start of the two-year Brexit negotiating process, the Commission appears set to step back from immediate confrontation over this issue with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Instead, the review will focus on cutting costs for small firms in the financial sector and extending beyond 2018 an exemption for pension funds from EMIR requirements.

A Commission spokeswoman said the proposal would include simplifications to some “targeted rules”. Previous expectations were for more comprehensive reform of EMIR, including rules governing the location of clearing.

The executive has not shied away, however, from warning that London’s position as Europe’s dominant financial market may face problems on Brexit. In a somewhat unusual step, the Commission published an internal document that sets out the complexities of authorising firms from outside the EU accessing its market.

And, the paper said, such decisions, by which the EU accepts that a foreign jurisdiction has “equivalent” prudential and other rules to those in the Union, can also be revoked.

“An equivalence decision may be changed or even withdrawn… at any moment,” the paper said.

Brexit risks taking multi-trillion euro trading from London

If Britons vote to leave the EU, London’s financial centre faces losing one of its top money spinners – the trade in trillions of euros in derivatives – and the European Central Bank will be pushing hard for the business to move onto its patch.

The spokeswoman said the publication of a document that had been commissioned before the Brexit vote was not intended as a warning to Britain, or to the Trump administration in the United States.

EU ministers are concerned both countries may be tempted to pare back financial regulation to attract global business.

Equivalence may let British financial firms access EU markets but EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned last month that Brussels will apply “special vigilance” over such approvals.

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Background

Britain’s vote to leave the EU has sparked questions over its role as Europe’s financial capital, with cities like Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank, and Dublin also hoping to cash in on any move out of London by financial companies.

The issue of whether euro clearing houses can remain in the British capital is set to be one of the most contentious issues as Britain seeks to negotiate its future trade relationship with the EU after its departure.

French President François Hollande warned that Britain’s City of London financial district would have to give up its role in processing euro currency transactions after it leaves the European Union.

Britain has jealously guarded its status and won a recent EU court decision against the European Central Bank in order to keep hosting the euro deals.

Hollande says post-Brexit City must relinquish euro business

Britain's City of London financial district would have to give up its role in processing euro currency transactions after it leaves the European Union, French President François Hollande warned on Wednesday (29 June).

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