Leading regulators have once again warned the government not to put their independence at risk by introducing a power to overrule their decisions.
The government is currently attempting to use its flagship Financial Services and Markets Bill to introduce a so-called call-in power, allowing it to veto rule-making in the public interest.
But Bank of England deputy governor Sam Woods and Financial Conduct Authority chief Nikhil Rathi both told the Lord Mayor’s City Banquet at Mansion House on 27 October that this could threaten their existing operational independence, whether they are allowed to pursue overarching legal objectives such as maintaining market integrity as they see fit.
“As an independent regulator, we have shown we can act quickly, whether it was in our reaction to Covid, Russia, the rising cost of living and unprecedented market turbulence,” Rathi said. “It is vital that this independence and agility at speed is not undermined by any proposed call-in power.”
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Politicians have been key to introducing the override to set the City free from retained EU laws and bureaucratic structures, which they believe has held back its competitiveness.
“Leaving aside the evidence on financial stability, some might think that such a power would boost competitiveness,” Woods said. “My view is that through time it would do precisely the opposite, by undermining our international credibility and creating a system in which financial regulation blew much more with the political wind – weaker regulation under some governments, harsher regulation under others.”
John Glen — a close ally of Sunak who spearheaded much of the Financial Services and Markets Bill — has now returned to government as chief Treasury secretary, a promotion from City minister that now sees him attend cabinet, the grouping of most senior government figures.
Sunak appears less keen than his predecessor for a rapid wholesale overhaul, however. The Financial Timesreported that Sunak will not set up his planned Brexit delivery unit, nor meet his target to review or repeal post-Brexit EU laws in his first 100 days as prime minister after government departments highlighted the level of resources they would require to do so.
Public opinion may be a further barrier as the Bill moves through parliament: Polling by the charity Finance Innovation Lab suggests fewer than one in ten Brits would support plans to reduce regulation in the financial services industry.
The Treasury committee of MPs will have a key role in scrutinising the plans going forward. A race for a new chair of the influential group is now on after Mel Stride’s promotion to the position of work and pensions secretary. At the time of writing, Harriett Baldwin and John Baron had officially entered the contest, though TheTimes reports that former health secretary Matt Hancock is also considering a run.
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