Exiting the EU (Financial Services)

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:05 pm, 25th February 2019

I thank the Minister for all his work on these financial services SIs. I have debated some of them and Anneliese Dodds has debated some, but he has had to debate almost all of them. That is a terrible burden for one man to have to bear, and it illustrates that this process is hugely time consuming. It is eating up massive amounts of all our time. We might hope that we will not need to use these statutory instruments, but as we head towards Brexit, and with the Prime Minister’s announcements over the past 24 hours, it feels as though things are getting more and more perilous the closer we get.

In many cases it feels very much like we are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, because we are less than five weeks from exit day and the Government are quite clearly running down the clock. We should be under no illusions that while a no deal is an absolute catastrophe, the deal being proposed is not good enough either. There are no merits to a no-deal Brexit plan for financial services, but whatever deal can be cobbled together, it will be nowhere near as good for financial services as what we have at the moment. Removing passporting, which is part of what this legislation is all about, will have a huge impact on financial services and how they operate.

It is no secret that I have very different opinions from many on the UK Government Benches, but this is no longer a question of differing opinions. The reality is that no competent Government would have let things get to this stage. We should not be coming here at the very last minute to discuss such legislation. The Minister was up front in saying that there were errors in the legislation, but that smacks of a process that is not good enough. Some things have been picked up as incorrect, but there may be other things, because this is a substantial SI. We have got it pretty late in the day, and it is incredibly detailed and complex.

I would like the Prime Minister to recognise the urgency of the situation and extend article 50, taking no deal off the table, to give us more time on all this. Ideally, I would like us to stay in the single market and the customs union, because that would make things hugely simpler, certainly for financial services and for everybody else in other sectors of the economy too.

The Scottish Government have been doing their best, preparing as best they can, but they cannot mitigate everything. We do not yet have the Treasury’s full analysis of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, despite this House having voted on it twice. Last week the Scottish Government invested in their own analysis, which was published last week in a report by our chief economist. The results were damning. It said that Scotland could see a fall in GDP by 7% in the first two years after Brexit. That would be an enormous blow to our industries and jobs and to the household incomes of the people of Scotland. To put things in context, the 2008 recession saw Scotland’s GDP fall by 5.7%. This shambolic UK Government, in hock to the most extreme elements on their Benches, are doing this on purpose.

The analysis looked at only the first two years after Brexit, but the long-term effects could be sustained and long lasting. The Fraser of Allander Institute in my constituency has conducted one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the effects of migration on the UK economy. Migration is a huge issue for the financial services sector, which has much talent from around the world that needs to be able to move backwards and forwards without any difficulties. The effect of reduced migration after Brexit will lower Scotland’s GDP by 9% over the next 20 years. Reduced migration is very much the intention of the Prime Minister’s deal—it proposes to slash immigration by 80%. That will have a massive impact. [Interruption.] Government Members may sigh, but this will have a huge impact on our financial services—on the skills and talents of people coming to live and work in Scotland. The London bubble may well be fine, but as we get further away from that bubble, the impact will be greater—on Edinburgh, on Aberdeen and on Glasgow. It will mean fewer of the working-age population contributing to the economy and enriching our lives. It is an unforgiveable, ideological obsession, which has no evidence to support it.

The impact of no deal is very serious indeed, and many businesses in my constituency are gravely concerned about their futures. This SI, as the Minister says, is intended to offer consistency for businesses in the event of a no-deal cliff edge. However, relying on transitional provisions such as the temporary permissions regimes offers very little in the way of reassurance for businesses. We are being encouraged to rush through significant pieces of legislation, right, left and centre, without proper scrutiny for those businesses to engage with, and the effects will be felt by nearly 60,000 businesses. It is just not possible for each of those businesses—small and large businesses and businesses of varying different types and of varying different sectors—to have their say on this to explain exactly how it will affect them. The effects will impact them, yet they will not have the opportunity to fully engage in the process.

Anneliese Dodds said that the temporary permissions regimes allows companies to provide services in the UK for up to three years after 29 March. I agree very much with what she and Nicky Morgan said about the consistency of this process. We are seeing so many different pieces of legislation and so many different SIs, and that is causing inconsistency, which is a worry. Some firms may find that, for one part of their business there is one date, but for another part there is another date. That will cause additional confusion.

Furthermore, businesses may well infer from these stopgap measures that the Government are expecting chaos after Brexit, and that is a position I would find it difficult to disagree with. It is no wonder that, in this context, we are seeing investment in UK businesses grinding to a halt. Ernst & Young noted that £800 billion of assets have been moved from the UK to Europe since 2016, which is absolutely terrifying.

This SI also deals with mortgages. It talks about covering contracts after Brexit, but only if they are secured on residential property in the UK. There are different measures for properties outside the UK, which means yet more complication for people to deal with. The instrument also deals with investment firms and insurance. The impact assessment says that branches of EEA banks authorised in the UK will be treated in the same way as third country branches are treated now. That is yet more red tape and more paperwork. The SI deals with consumer credit, which is, of course, hugely important to all of our constituents in their daily lives. Those are just some of the highlights of this very complex SI, and they illustrate just how much more difficult things will be than they are at the moment.

The hon. Member for Oxford East mentioned scrutiny. Part 8 of the SI covers the setting of fees by the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. In effect, we are saying to those organisations, “Right, you go ahead and set your fees.” We will lose any idea of scrutiny over this. I am sure that those organisations will set reasonable fees, but can we be certain about that? We are giving that power to them. We are taking that power away from ourselves. There are no Brexiteers here saying, “Oh, we talked about taking back control.” Actually, we are not taking back control; we are losing any sense of control over this because we are delegating it all to those organisations. They may well have to report back, but we are still losing direct control.

The issue of familiarisation costs has been mentioned. A total of £1,900 per firm does not sound huge, but, as was mentioned earlier, it is affecting 59,200 firms, which is hugely significant. We should consider the fact that this is costing industry £110 million. This is money that industry should not have to be thinking about. Should we get to this Brexit cliff edge that the Prime Minister appears to be leading us towards, they will be spending this huge amount of money when they could have been investing it in other things, such as staff and research and development. This money is just being sucked up by Brexit, and we will be left all the poorer.

Let me return now to this idea of transitional provisions. As the provisions are transitional, it means that, at some point, we will have to come back to them. All of these SIs and pieces of legislation that we have been working on and divvying up will have to be revisited. That does not fill me with any great joy; I am sure that it does not fill the Minister with any great joy. As other Members have said, we need to see the UK Government’s wider plans. Where is the White Paper on financial services that will cover all of these things comprehensively, that will set out our direction of travel, and that will set out the principles of our financial services? It is hugely important to have these principles in place. In 2008, at the time of the crash, financial services lost their way. As part of the EU, we put these principles in place to get us back on track. We cannot see any dilution of those principles as we go forward, because we will end up in exactly the same disastrous place. I question the process and the legislation, but I remind the House that it is in the Prime Minister’s gift to withdraw the option of a no-deal Brexit. If she did that, it would render everything that we are talking about today completely useless, but we would be in a better place.

On the substantive content of the Bill, I have a point to which I would like to draw the House’s attention. In a letter to the Treasury, the Financial Markets Law Committee highlighted an area of legal uncertainty arising from the textual content of the SI. Section 137R(4) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 grants the FCA the power to make rules applying to authorised persons in relation to communications by or approved by them if it considers that such rules are required to ensure compliance with certain “listed requirements”. The legislation goes on to explain that “listed requirements” means requirements under the law of the UK that appear to the FCA to correspond to the requirements of various EU legislation.

This definition leaves considerable scope for interpretation. I have raised in this House and in Committee my concerns about the nature of the withdrawal Act and the erosion of parliamentary scrutiny that it brings. It does appear that we are handing an awful lot of latitude to a public body in this example cited by the FMLC. It recommends that a more specific list, such as that included in the original drafting, would be more useful, albeit altered to reflect UK legislation. If we are to be in this position facing a no-deal Brexit, despite all evidence showing the damage that that will cause, we need to have more robust and more detailed plans in place.

Fundamentally, everybody in this House knows the position of the Scottish National party. In Scotland, we voted to remain in the EU. We have worked very hard on building up our financial services sector in Scotland. It is an important, high-skill and high-pay sector, which drives many of our towns and cities. To face the prospect of crashing out without a deal is an absolutely appalling situation. Everybody working in this sector deserves better than the plans that the Prime Minister has put forward and they certainly deserve better than a no deal, and she should take that off the table.