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Johnson looks for ways to get economy moving

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-08 09:24

People shop at a Sainsbury's store, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, Dec 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on the nation's business groups and leaders for ideas on how to change regulations to boost the United Kingdom's economy, a move that may alarm European Union officials.

In a call with 250 business figures on Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that the prime minster pushed plans for regulatory and legislative reform following the country's departure from the EU and the post-Brexit trade deal agreed last month.

Given that Britain had agreed to observe the so-called level playing field rules in its trade deal negotiated with the EU, the call could agitate officials in Brussels who would see it as the UK considering deregulation, in the form of divergence from issues such as workers' rights and environmental protections.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, suggested to members of Parliament that Britain should abandon full access to EU financial markets if it means becoming a regulatory rule-taker.

Officials from the UK and the EU will seek an agreement at the end of March that will determine their relationship in financial services and future rules that were not covered by the trade deal.

Bailey told a Treasury select committee that the EU's demand that the UK submit to its finance regulations was "problematic".

The UK's finance service sector is seeking an "equivalency" arrangement, which would mean free access to EU share trading markets in European cities such as Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.

"If the price is too high then we can't just go for it whatever," Bailey told the committee. "I strongly recommend that we don't become a rule-taker. If the price of that is no equivalence then I am afraid that will follow."

On Monday, in the first day of finance trading since Brexit was fully implemented, City of London share trading worth 6 billion euros ($7.1 billion) quickly shifted to rival European market exchanges.

Many business leaders have been deeply critical of the government's handling of Brexit and have questioned whether it ever had a clear plan in place for the finance sector after departure from the bloc.

In the discussion with business leaders, Johnson said he "was bubbling with enthusiasm "about "opportunities" presented, though the Financial Times noted that the call was carefully "stage-managed" and attendees said questions were vetted.

One attendee told the newspaper that the "event was very controlled, you couldn't talk unless Number 10 let you".

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss were also on the call.

The chancellor was reported to have said he wanted to "boost growth by investing in skills, infrastructure and innovation, including green technologies".

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