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#Brexit - UK jobs market shines, but clouds on horizon

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Britain’s labour market showed unexpected strength in the second quarter, in sharp contrast with figures last week that showed the economy contracted over the same period as the country gears up for Brexit, write Andy Bruce and David Milliken.

Total earnings growth including bonuses rose by an annual 3.7% in the three months to June - the highest rate since June 2008 and up from 3.5% in May, and in line with forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists.

The jobs market has been a silver lining for the economy since the Brexit vote in June 2016, something many economists have attributed to employers preferring to hire workers they can later lay off rather than making longer-term commitments to investment.

Tuesday’s figures showed Britain created 115,000 jobs in the second quarter, bringing the level of employment to a record 32.811 million, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

“The jobs market remains a source of strength for the UK economy, though it may now be reaching its peak,” said Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors.

Sterling showed little reaction to the data, which tend to lag broader trends in the economy and had also appeared healthy in the lead-up to the financial crisis.

Excluding bonuses, annual pay growth picked up to 3.9% from 3.6%, the ONS said, compared with the poll forecast for growth of 3.8%.

A little of the strength in the pay data reflected the unusual timing of annual pay rises for public health workers in 2018, when a larger-than-normal increase was deferred until July.

Some details pointed to tougher times ahead, after data last week showed the economy unexpectedly shrank by 0.2% in the three months to June.

The unemployment rate rose to 3.9%, against expectations for it to hold steady 3.8%, and while employment growth far exceeded forecasts, part-time rather than full-time jobs accounted entirely for the increase.

Output per hour, the headline measure of productivity, fell 0.6% in annual terms - the fourth quarter of decline in a row and the longest such run since mid-2013.

Poor productivity is one of Britain’s biggest economic challenges and, until recently, had contributed to a decade of weak pay growth.

The number of job vacancies, an indicator of future employment, fell to 820,000 in the three months to July from 824,000 in the period to June, the lowest level in more than a year.

Some recent surveys of companies have suggested employers are turning more cautious about hiring as new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the European Union on 31 October, with or without a deal.

The Bank of England said this month it saw signs of a softening in labour market indicators.

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Fishing firms could go bust over Brexit, MPs told

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British fishing businesses could go bust or move to Europe because of post-Brexit trading disruption, industry figures have warned, writes the BBC.

MPs were told paperwork due to new border controls had proved a "massive problem" and should be moved online.

They also heard extra costs had made it "impossible" for some firms to trade profitably.

Ministers have promised action on disruption, and £23 million for affected firms.

The UK government has also set up a taskforce aiming to resolve problems faced by the industry in Scotland.

The Commons environment committee heard funding could have to continue, and be widened further, to help the sector weather Brexit-related problems.

Outside the EU's single market, British fish exports to Europe are now subject to new customs and veterinary checks which have caused problems at the border.

Martyn Youell, a manager at south-west England fishing company Waterdance, told MPs the industry was facing more than just "teething problems".

"Whilst some things have settled down, some obvious issues, we feel that we remain with at least 80% of the trading difficulties that have been encountered," he said.

"There are some extreme forces operating on the supply chain, and we probably will see some forced consolidation or business failure."

"The exporters we deal with are seriously considering relocating part of their processing business to the EU because of the difficulties we face".

He said the "largely paper-based" forms they now have to fill in had pushed up costs, and called for the UK to work with the EU in moving them online.

'Lot of anger'

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said the problems could lead to smaller firms in particular stopping trading with Europe in the medium term.

She said the annual costs of the new paperwork, between £250,000 and £500,000 per year, were too much for them to sustain.

But she said many "can't see where they could turn" at the moment because travel bans and the Covid pandemic have closed off other markets.

She added there was "a lot of anger" about the design of the government's £23m compensation scheme, which links funds to provable losses due to Brexit.

She said it meant many firms which had "worked through the night" to get shipments ready had not been compensated for extra costs.

Shellfish ban

Sarah Horsfall, co-chief executive at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, also criticised the scheme, noting firms that "made massive efforts" didn't qualify.

She also called for ministers to adopt a different approach to persuade the EU to overturn a ban on British exports of some types of live shellfish.

After leaving the EU single market, these exports from all but the highest-grade fishing grounds have to be purified before they can enter the EU market.

The UK government has accused the EU of reneging on a previous commitment such exports could continue with a special certificate.

Ms Horsfall said there had been the "propensity for a bit of a misunderstanding" among either UK or EU officials about the post-Brexit rules.

She urged a "more nuanced approach" from UK ministers in resolving the matter, noting their "bullish" response "perhaps hasn't helped either".

And she said a more "flexible" regime for determining the quality of British fishing waters could provide help to the industry in the long-term.

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EU auditors highlight risks of Brexit Adjustment Reserve

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In an opinion published today (1 March), the European Court of Auditors (ECA) raises some concerns over the recent proposal for a Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR). This €5 billion fund is a solidarity tool which is intended to support those member states, regions and sectors worst affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. According to the auditors, while the proposal provides flexibility for member states, the design of the reserve creates a number of uncertainties and risks.

The European Commission proposes that 80% of the fund (€4bn) should be granted to member states in the form of pre-financing following the BAR’s adoption. Member states would be allocated their share of pre-financing on the basis of the estimated impact on their economies, taking into account two factors: trade with the UK and fish caught in the UK exclusive economic zone. Applying this allocation method, Ireland would become the main beneficiary of prefinancing, with nearly a quarter (€991 million) of the envelope, followed by the Netherlands (€714m), Germany (€429m), France (€396m) and Belgium (€305m).

“The BAR is an important funding initiative which aims to help mitigate the negative impact of Brexit on the EU member states’ economies,” said Tony Murphy, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the opinion. “We consider that the flexibility provided by the BAR should not create uncertainty for member states.”

Opinion No 1/2021 concerning the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Brexit Adjustment Reserve

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UK will resist 'dubious' EU pressure on banks, says BoE's Bailey

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Britain will resist “very firmly” any European Union attempts to arm-twist banks into shifting trillions of euros in derivatives clearing from Britain to the bloc after Brexit, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said on Wednesday, write Huw Jones and David Milliken.

Europe’s top banks have been asked by the European Commission to justify why they should not have to shift clearing of euro-denominated derivatives from London to the EU, a document seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed.

Britain’s financial services industry, which contributes over 10% of the country’s taxes, has been largely cut off from the EU since a Brexit transition period ended on Dec. 31 as the sector is not covered by the UK-EU trade deal.

Trading in EU shares and derivatives has already left Britain for the continent.

The EU is now targeting clearing which is dominated by the London Stock Exchange’s LCH arm to reduce the bloc’s reliance on the City of London financial hub, over which EU rules and supervision no longer apply.

“It would be very controversial in my view, because legislating extra-territorially is controversial anyway and obviously of dubious legality, frankly, ...” Bailey told lawmakers in Britain’s parliament on Wednesday.

The European Commission said it had no comment at this stage.

Some 75% of the 83.5 trillion euros ($101 trillion) in clearing positions at LCH are not held by EU counterparties and the EU should not be targeting them, Bailey said.

Clearing is a core part of financial plumbing, ensuring that a stock or bond trade is completed, even if one side of the transaction goes bust.

“I have to say to you quite bluntly that that would be highly controversial and I have to say that that would be something that we would, I think, have to and want to resist very firmly,” he said.

Asked by a lawmaker if he understood concerns among EU policymakers about companies having to go outside the bloc for financial services, Bailey said: “The answer to that is competition not protectionism.”

Brussels has given LCH permission, known as equivalence, to continue clearing euro trades for EU firms until mid-2022, providing time for banks to shift positions from London to the bloc.

The question of equivalence is not about mandating what non-EU market participants must do outside the bloc and the latest efforts by Brussels were about forced relocation of financial activity, Bailey said.

Deutsche Boerse has been offering sweeteners to banks that shift positions from London to its Eurex clearing arm in Frankfurt, but has barely eroded LCH’s market share.

The volume of clearing represented by EU clients at LCH in London would not be very viable on its own inside the bloc as it would mean fragmenting a big pool of derivatives, Bailey said.

“By splitting that pool up the whole process becomes less efficient. To break that down it would increase costs, no question about that,” he said.

Banks have said that by clearing all denominations of derivatives at LCH means they can net across different positions to save on margin, or cash they must post against potential default of trades.

($1 = €0.8253 )

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