The Council acknowledged the continued political uncertainty and speakers from the academic and diplomatic worlds noted that national self-interest was bound to influence the Brexit process, no matter what platitudes are offered by current members of the European Union. A number of speakers emphasised the view that Ireland was unlikely to give up the hard-won open border between UK-controlled Northern Ireland and the Republic just to satisfy the deliverance of Britain from the EU. Despite the clear lines of engagement laid out, there is much negotiating ahead, with nothing written in stone. And so, a key message to come out of the Council's deliberations was to hurry up and engage with the process, because the timescale is even more limited than it might appear. The process of unwinding and then rewriting thousands of pages of legislation will inevitably take many years beyond the two-year process triggered by Article 50, but within that two-year timeframe, banking and payments businesses will have to set in motion relocation programmes and settle into new operations. All of this will take place against the backdrop of political volatility and radical change in the regulation of payments, such as currently in train with PSD2. Although the EU would welcome a British about-face, it's extremely unlikely to happen, and the EU won't allow the UK to find ways to delay the process. Furthermore, the usual business of democratic elections has taken on added frissson, with established parties no longer able to rely on a compliant electorate. That's the positive scenario. Members were advised to take seriously the Bank of England warning to prepare for a Brexit without agreement. One fascinating facet of the Council discussions was the flagging of fundamental, underlying differences between legal perspectives, with the UK continuing to favour a "degrees of freedom" perspective versus the EU's "compliance" perspective.
The Brexit Council also heard that it was not just regulatory perspectives that will decide the future of institutions caught up in the Brexit process. Human capital and mobility will be key factors, and despite the occasional story comparing Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe, it's the more fundamental social infrastructure that is important to businesses and their employees — including education and quality of life. A number of Irish representatives called on their authorities to show more imagination and initiative to attract business to Dublin and the regions, noting Berlin's initiative in having mobile billboards travelling around London. Meanwhile, a London conference, Prosperity UK, heard similar calls for both government and businesses to show some more "swagger" as other European capitals step up efforts to attract bankers from Britain. The next Brexit Council will convene in late summer.
Also in the UK, Triodos Bank is launching a current account aimed at customers who want their money to "improve society", ranging from social housing to renewable energy projects. It's not all pie in the sky either — Lafferty Group noted last year that a number of the banks top-rated for quality were investing in and supporting wind and solar energy projects. "Money is the most powerful tool for change," said Bevis Watts, managing director at Triodos. "UK consumers are realising just how much influence they can exert over the banking system and our wider society simply by channelling their finances into things that benefit them, their communities and society in the long term." The bank rejected the notion of free banking and said it would charge customers £3 a month for the current account, noting that "free banking" is inevitably paid for by other services.
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