Five questions answered on the new banking reforms

Are we right to jail reckless bankers?

The government has today said it will back most of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Commission for Banking Standards (PCBS). We answer five questions on the plans for reform.

What key recommendations is the government planning on implementing?

The key changes are:

There will be a new criminal offence of reckless misconduct by top bankers resulting in a possible jail sentence.

If a bank has been bailed out bankers bonuses could be repayable. Bonuses are also to be deferred by up to 10 years.

If any bank breaks any rules, the burden of proof shall lie with the relevant senior bankers to show that they took all reasonable steps to stop it happening.

What recommendations are the government not taking up?

The government did not agree to employ a much tougher leverage ration for banks, limiting the total amount of loans and investments a bank can make relative to the amount of capital the bank holds in order to absorb losses on those assets.

This would ultimately toughen limits on banks’ risk taking.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has decided instead to stick to the lower level agreed and set out by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel.

The government has also refused to abolish its holding company for its stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, called UK Financial Investments. It said: "UKFI is staffed by highly expert professionals with extensive experience in the banking sector".

What else has Osborne said?

Today he said: “The government is determined to raise standards across the banking industry to create a stronger and safer banking system.

“I am pleased to say that the government will implement its main recommendations. Where legislative changes are required we will amend the Banking Reform Bill which is currently before Parliament.

“Cultural reform in the banking sector marks the next step in the government’s plan to move the whole sector from rescue to recovery and ensure that UK banks demonstrate the highest standards, and are able to support business and drive economic growth.”

What other changes will be made?

The Prudential Regulation Authority, which is responsible for ensuring excess risks do not build up within the banking system, will be given an extra job of ensuring competition among banks.

Is the government considering any changes in the way the Royal Bank of Scotland is handled?

The government did say it would consider the PCBS’s suggestion of splitting the Royal Bank of Scotland into a ‘good’ high street bank - that can be quickly sold back to the private sector – and a ‘bad’ bank which should be kept and existing problematic loans worked out. 

Guests listen to speeches at the "Lord Mayor's Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London" at Mansion House on June 19, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

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