#NoMandateMay and economic gangbangs

An economic gang bang or gangbang is a situation in which several business sectors engage in damaging economic relations with one particular individual country sequentially or at the same time.

The far-right government of Mrs May has brought the country to a terrible impasse. First of all, let me be clear as to why I choose to call the current administration a far-right government.

Conservativism is defined by openness to markets and capitalism, is friendly to business and values individual freedom. I do not agree with all of the above in all circumstances, but it is a legitimate and respected set of values.

The Conservative Party that emerged from the recent conference is a nationalist melange of protectionists, tax-and-spenders (where will the money to compensate for the costs of Brexit to business going to come from you think?), large state (who will run the new Brexit related services you reckon?) racist nationalists.

Nationalists yes, but racists? Yes racists. When Amber Rudd offers speeches plagiarised (unwittingly or intentionally) from Mein Kampf, we are no longer in Kansas.

This is not the Conservative Party we loved to hate. This is UKIP on steroids. And, lets remember that nearly 37% of voters chose the Conservatives, while only 12.6% chose UKIP. A UKIP by stealth government offered by the loony fringes of the Tories is not what we voted for in 2015.

The only way out of this mess (May promoting a hard Brexit with no mandate to do so) is an early general election. Now, don’t get upset if you voted Leave. I do not dare interpret your vote. It could be that you voted Leave because you wanted a complete clean break from Europe. You could be a tea-bag manufacturer or local jam producer (prime focus for trade policy we are told) that stands to benefit (or so we are told) from Brexit-plus.

It is clear the current Parliament does not reflect the popular will as expressed in the referendum. It is also clear that current policy does not express the mandate received in 2015 when the Tories campaigned on a promise to safeguard the country’s position in the single market.

An election offers a wider choice than a binary referendum. Want complete Brexit? You can pick from UKIP or the Tory selection of free range fascists. Want soft Brexit? You can pick Labour. Want no Brexit  (if possible)? You can pick LibDems.

Should you doubt that business is lathering up for the gangbang?  I urge you not to. Read anything from anyone. If you are still not convinced, and think that a media conspiracy is out to defame Brexit, you would probably cherish the chance to put Farage on the front benches.

Write to #NoMandateMay and urge her to seek a mandate.


700 days

A letter from the not too distant future 

Autumn 2018.

The King has just finished his public broadcast. The monthly ritual established since Charles ascended to the throne continues unabated. People chuckle and say that his hour long tirades are like a posh Chavez. I beg to differ. They are difficult to watch regardless.

I bought some euros again today. £1.60 to the Euro. I knew I shouldn’t buy currency anymore, but since bank charges for international transactions went up, I have no choice.

Theresa May was yelling in the Commons again. I got used to her, but can’t stand the sight of Farage in the front benches.

Didn’t go to work again this morning either. The centre is closed as the police tries to contain the riot. It’s been better than the north though. Manchester has been a mess.

There were skirmishes on the border with Scotland. Trucks try to run through the new EU border on B roads. Drivers get violent when stopped. 

It doesn’t matter anyway for us really. We will be back in Athens in a week. Managed to get a ticket, dear though it was. Greece is still unstable but with a 25% drop in GDP over 8 years, it beats England.

Sad thing is, if we could get a mortgage now, I could buy anything I wanted on the street. Another auction sign went up yesterday.

Anyway, I am optimistic. We had a good run of things, couldn’t have lasted forever.


I fought the Law and the Law won, till now

This post first appeared on the new SLSA Blog, it is reproduced here in full:
As the troubles of Deutsche Bank remind us of the heady days leading to the collapse of Lehman, we have a good opportunity to reflect on financial rescues and resistance to the austerity that resulted, at least in Europe. While on the systemic level resistance to bailouts, and rescues with their associated conditionality may sound counter-intuitive (if there had been no rescues our economies and lives would look very different now), there is significant impetus to resist on the personal level.
A pensioner who as suffered repeated reductions in payments due to financial consolidation mandated by rescue conditionality; a judge who has seen incomes slashed; employees made redundant; depositors bailed-in; investors subject to haircuts; and many more have strong personal incentives to resist. Add to these financial market players who object to QE and ECB “helicopter money” and you have a strong constituency for action, despite the fact that no one would have preferred policy makers to let the market ‘creatively destroy’ itself in a Europe-wide experiment in Schumpeter’s gale.
The obvious vehicle for resistance is the law. How can the law then be used to protect personal interests in a hope to reverse austerity, or at least protest in individual cases?
The first question to ask is what to complain about?
Rescue programmes, usually in the form of MoUs between European institutions and countries in difficulty have required fiscal discipline and the reduction of budget deficits, including action on state debt levels. This led to what is widely perceived as a one-size-fits-all austerity recipe imposed on countries receiving assistance (Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece). The consequence of the implementation of these MoUs has been an uneasy mix with domestic legal provisions. In a number of cases, mandated measures have been judged unconstitutional, especially when they involved lay-offs, changes to labour laws and reductions in salaries, or increases in pension contributions. Claimants have sought to invalidate these decisions both in their implementation phase (in national courts) and at their origin (in European courts). Other claims are directed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Many cases have been about violations of property rights. For example as a result of the Cypriot bailout, the islands two main banks  had to be restructured. The terms of the rescue required a bail-in of investors and depositors during the re-organisation. Those who saw part of their investment disappear have complained about deprivation of possession in national and European courts. In Greece too have expropriation type claims surfaced, mostly centered on losses incurred during Greece’s debt haircut, another instance of bailout mandated cuts. Claimants in this case have taken their arguments both to national courts and international investment tribunals.
The second question is who to complain about?
Here things get more problematic. The structure of Eurozone rescue programmes had European institutions negotiate with member states agreements, which were then signed and monitored by consortia involving, or led by, international institutions (like the IMF and the ESM). The problem with this arrangement is that while one can sue their government in national courts, European institutions in European Courts, and both in human rights courts, it is more difficult to challenge the actions of international institutions. A technical jurisdictional barrier therefore has served to shield the administrators of bailouts and MoUs from the bulk of claimants. This all however recently changed.
Something’s different
The European Court of Justice recently offered judgment on a case involving Cypriot claimants against European Union institutions for losses suffered due to the forced bank restructure mentioned earlier. Because actions related to the Cyprus bailout were handled by the ESM, so far there was an irremovable jurisdictional barrier to anyone who wanted to complain in a legal action about the involvement of the EU. The ECJ, for the first time however said that the tasks allocated to the Commission by the ESM Treaty oblige it to ensure that MoUs concluded by the ESM are consistent with EU law. The consequence is that the European Commission should refrain from signing MoUs whose consistency with EU law is in doubt. Suddenly the jurisdictional barrier disappeared.
Shall everyone run to the courts then?
Not quite yet. The court did not decide that the Cypriot MoU was illegal and ordered no compensation for Cypriot investors. The measures taken in Cyprus were judged as necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. Nonetheless, recent jurisprudence is significant as it breaks down the barrier between European institutions and international-treaty based structures that have sprang up to deal with the needs of euro-area crisis response. This opens the door to legal challenges to the bailout programmes of the EFSF/ESM offering an avenue to a plethora of claimants to unpick the questionable legal underpinnings of conditionality and austerity policies. There are a lot more claims challenging austerity and its consequences over and beyond property deprivation. Lawyers all over the European South are open for business.

The City and Brexit: A Primer


Chapter 1: Passporting

The prospect of Brexit has created a tsunami of information as people try to get to terms with the various consequences of a British exit from the European Union. As a teacher of Banking Law, I realised that while a lot of terms are commonly referenced in the financial press, our students – and the wider public- have little appreciation of what is happening and what the implications are.

I am starting therefore a series of short posts on issues Brexit-related from a non-technical perspective for a non-legal audience. You can view this as a primer on the relationship of the world of business with Brexit.

We start with the City and the perceived threat Brexit poses to Passporting. This post presents what Passporting is, why it is important and how Brexit is likely to affect the operation of financial firms & banks out of the UK and with what consequence. This piece is meant to be informative, not partisan, so I will make an effort to avoid repeating why I think Brexit is a very, very bad idea.

What are we talking about?

The City is worried that if the UK departs from the Single Market it will lose Passporting rights. A core consequence of Freedom of Movement for (financial) services is that authorisation granted to a banking business in one Member State will suffice for operations across the EU and it is not therefore required that the process be repeated in another. This principle – nowadays almost sacrosanct as a European principle of banking and financial law – is commonly referred to as ‘Passporting’. The notion of a ‘European passport’ is inexorably linked to the parallel concept of ‘passported activities’. Such activities are termed ‘activities subject to the mutual recognition’. The main reserved activities are, on the one hand, the acceptance of deposits or other repayable funds and, on the other, lending including, inter alia: consumer credit, mortgage credit, factoring, with or without recourse, financing of commercial transactions (including forfeiting). Also, it is important to note that this universal green light applies to the activities a financial institution wishes to perform in another Member State either by means of cross-border, distant services, or by means of a branch office in that other Member State.

Is this important?

The City is a key driver in the British economy. Britain has the highest ratio of services exports to GDP in the G7, at 13%. It also has the biggest share of financial services exports by some way, at 29% in 2012 (the US comes second at 15%). In 2014, financial and insurance services contributed £126.9 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy, 8.0% of the UK’s total GVA. London accounted for 50.5% of the total financial and insurance sector GVA in the UK in 2012. The sector’s contribution to UK jobs is around 3.4%. Trade in financial services also makes up a substantial proportion of the UK’s trade surplus in services. In 2013/14, the banking sector alone contributed £21.4 billion to UK tax receipts in corporation tax, income tax, national insurance and through the bank levy.

It is not perceived to be in anyone’s interests to sharply and artificially reduce the size of the financial sector in the short to medium term.

What can Brexit do?

Let us assume that Brexit does happen in one of its extreme versions, taking the country out of the Single Market. This will mean loss of Passporting rights, but it will not mean that the heady proportion of GDP contributed by financial services will disappear in its entirety. PwC estimates that the GVA of financial services to the economy will decline by 6-10% (roughly) by 2020, representing a reduction around £7-12 billion in value. Loss of employment is estimated between 70-100.000 in the financial services sector. Why is the projected impact so severe? One after all could point to banks operating successfully in countries outside the EU. An argument of the Leave camp is that reduced connection with Europe frees up options for increased trade in services (including financial services) beyond Europe.

The answer of why the impact is so severe is rather mundane. It is a matter of increased costs and upset balance sheets. No one is suggesting that banks headquartered in Britain will no longer be able to do business in Europe. The problem is that if the industry loses Passporting, compliance and administrative costs will increase markedly. Funds will need to move to the continent if accounts in Euros can no longer clear from London. While this does not mean that banks will close (after all, major banks already have a presence in the continent), it does suggest costs in the short and medium term. With the movement of funds, some (but not all) jobs will go. The cumulative impact of Brexit (especially if it also means exit from the Single Market) is that Britain will present a very different business proposition than it does now. This difference amounts to a few billion pounds wiped off the country’s GDP. This is not apocalyptic, but it is unavoidable if a hard-Brexit is the base scenario.

There is another aspect of Brexit impacts arising from a reduction to the size of the City. The Revenue will face a sharp loss of income if significant amounts of economic activity migrate to the continent. This, on top of increased budgetary needs due to a deteriorating economy (especially since the UK runs a budget deficit at around 6% at the moment) will be a bad hit to state finances.

Can other business, attracted from overseas, compensate? The answer to this question is yes, but only partly. The UK cannot, and should not, seek to become a big-island tax haven. It cannot jump from being the centre of European finance to Singapore-by-the-channel. Even if this were the aim, the price to pay for attracting international funds will be tax breaks and sharp tax cuts. This will not compensate for the loss of tax income, even if it helps firms retain a presence and preserves some part of the City.


Passporting is important and stepping out of a harmonised zone for the provision of financial services entails a loss of business which will not annihilate the sector, but will significantly reduce it. Any adjustment will take place over the longer term and in 2030, the City will still be smaller than it was in June 2016. Brexit, if it means exit from the Single Market, will not turn Canary Wharf into a parking lot, but it will not do any favours to the Treasury or growth in the British economy.


Legitimate grievances and a brown guy on TV


A lot of us in the Remain camp (and a lot of Leavers to be honest) have spent a lot of time trying to convince ourselves that the Brexit vote (and everything else) has an economic justification in its core.

People are marginalised by globalisation, capitalism, neoliberalism, whateveryouwannacallitism. They are ‘left behind’. They are unrepresented by normal politics and turn to the extremes. They wanted to ‘stick it to the man’, to express their dissatisfaction. This is why they voted for Brexit, why they support Trump, why they vote for neonazis across Europe.

While this is a wonderful explanation, in keeping with our Marxist methodological frameworks, it is sadly not true. Also, it is inconveniently passing the blame for all this mess back on us, university profs, the metropolitan elite, normal politics, the 1% (etc etc).

We know how to blame (and deal with) neoliberalism, austerity, unemployment and the rest. We do not know how to deal with bigotry and racism. We do not know what to make of this alliance of the rancid rich with the racist poor, of the snooty Londoners and provincial bigots. We are at a loss. We are also responsible. Read this great piece by @zackbeauchamp in VOX, and you won’t be able to pretend anymore either.

Why are we responsible you say? Because we found ourselves appeasing the bigots, of saying things like: Immigration is a legitimate grievance.

It is not. Do you hear me? Immigration is not a legitimate grievance.

I can prove it.

I can prove it on the systemic level by showing you rims of statistics that prove migration to be a net benefit to the UK, to Europe, to USA, to everyone.

I can prove it on the personal level too.

Next time a cousin comes along who says ‘You know they do have a point on immigration’, do not accept it. Question him. We have gone along with this lie for so long, we handed the referendum on a platter to the likes of Farage.

Ask people: Why is immigration a problem for YOU? What have YOU experienced that makes immigration a legitimate problem?

Try it and you will discover a surprising thing. They have read a lot of headlines from Nazi-like rags like the Daily Express. They have heard other people complain. They have seen once a brown person on TV.

Enough of that. Enough of the bigotry and racism. Enough with the pretense that this is somehow legitimate. Did you miss a council house to an Afghan? Did you lose your job to a Pole? Where you handicapped by a Greek doctor? Did you have to wait at A&E while they pulled a knife out of a foreigner? Do people speak foreign languages in the bus? Do you see a lot of headlines about all those 70 million Turks on their way here?

No Sir, immigration is a fiction. Other people are supposedly affected and you are scared. You are a fat, tatooed English-man in Manchester, scared of brown people on TV. This is why you voted for Brexit. And we let you do it. Well done to you, now you can vote for Andy and complete the circle.

The left lost this game because it abandoned its core principles and internationalism. You have now Labour MPs talking about ‘restrictions’, taking about reducing immigrants, talking about ‘legitimate concerns’. Talking the UKIP talk. To hell with them.

You are scared of foreign people on TV enough to cut your own legs off via this idiocy of Brexit? You deserve what will happen to you, but do not expect me to cry along about your legitimate grievances. The time has come to make a stand. Yes, you are all racists.