Leaked EU FTT will likely hit the City too, whether we want it or not

If you can't beat them, maybe you should think about joining them?

The Financial Times' Alex Barker has seen a draft version of the financial transaction tax which is to be implemented by 11 euro area nations, and writes that it:

casts a wider net than expected by adding anti-avoidance measures to the original plan for an EU-wide levy, so that financial business does not decamp to safe havens.

The plan will levy a 0.1 per cent tax on stock and bond trades, and a 0.01 per cent tax on derivatives. It is imposed on any transaction involving a financial institution with its headquarters in the area, or on any transaction on behalf of a client based in the tax area.

It will also apply to transactions based on where the financial product was issued.

The news makes Britain's decision to opt-out from the tax look increasingly questionable. We already have a transaction tax of 0.5 per cent on any trades involving British stock — called stamp duty — which hasn't impacted on Britain becoming a centre of European finance. And the anti-avoidance measures included in the proposed draft will hit a relatively hefty proportion of trades involving the City.

Overall, around €30bn-€35bn is expected to be raised by the FTT, while similar measures implemented in the UK could raise around £8bn for the exchequer, according to the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, who say:

When our European neighbours are making their City firms pay for the damage they've caused it is shocking that our Government is refusing to get our banks to do the same.

With the UK facing welfare cuts and increased austerity, it is incomprehensible that the Chancellor should turn down the opportunity.

While the move looks likely to be effective on a revenue-raising front, it is less so when it comes to altering behaviour — the other key motivation for financial transaction taxes. The EU has less high-frequency trading (HFT) than the US, and the EU-wide FTT doesn't include a measure proposed by the Hollande government in France which would impose a minuscule tax on requests for quotes. That tax was aimed at stopping a type of HFT — quote spamming — which involves very few actual stock purchases; its absence leaves that abuse open.

Similarly, the value of the tax is low enough that it's unlikely that it will promote the "buy and hold" mentality that many were hoping for. Markets will still be volatile, and speculators will still rule. But hopefully the revenue will help.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.