The Position on Equivalence Post Brexit

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[author: Alexandra Keenan]

Context and Background

On October 22, the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (the Committee) published its first report of session 2019/20 (the Report). In section 10, this includes consideration of the UK’s access to the EU financial services markets after Brexit and, more specifically, the European Commission’s recent review of the EU law on equivalence.

The notion of equivalence, and its importance in this context, was explained by the European Commission in a Press Release dated July 29 where it stated that:

“EU equivalence has become a significant tool in recent years, fostering integration of global financial markets and cooperation with third-country authorities. The EU assesses the overall policy context and to what extent the regulatory regimes of a given third country achieves the same outcomes as its own rules. A positive equivalence decision, which is a unilateral measure by the Commission, allows EU authorities to rely on third-country rules and supervision, allowing market participants from third countries who are active in the EU to comply with only one set of rules.”

However, the Report notes that, in light of Brexit, the financial industry of the UK will face a number of hurdles in relation to the provision of services to EU based customers. It is explained that the “current, automatic right of market access for banks, insurers and investment firms based on their UK-issued licence (known as ‘passporting’) will automatically fall away when EU law ceases to apply to and in the UK.”

Consequences

Where these rights fall away and, to the extent EU law ceases to apply in the UK, UK firms and business providing these services will have to comply with local regulations to access any of the EU’s national markets. Alternatively, the UK will need to apply for equivalence. Concerning the European Commission’s recent review of the use of equivalency, the Report notes on the one hand that “the EU would be wary of granting the UK equivalence in the most economically-important sectors (especially investment services) without safeguards that it will not substantially diverge from EU regulations.” On the other, however, it is stated that by not seeking equivalency, the UK runs the risk of seeing economic activity shift from the UK to the EU if UK firms are no longer able to provide services to their EU customers.

Equivalency is and has been addressed in the Political Declarations as annexed to the Withdrawal Agreements. Boris Johnson has indicated that parts of this document are to be renegotiated and it remains to be seen, whether equivalency is one of these points.

In the Report, the Committee asks the Economic Secretary to clarify, by October 31, if the government is seeking any changes to the sections of the political declaration related to financial services. He is also asked to confirm if the government is considering seeking equivalence under EU law post-Brexit and, if so, which specific pieces of EU legislation the equivalence is being prioritized under. In anticipation of the response, the Committee cleared the Commission’s equivalence review from scrutiny. Report. Press Release.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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