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Future of London Finance at Stake in Brexit Fight

Brexit trade negotiations are down to the wire this week. Even if the U.K. and European Union strike an accord, it won’t cover Britain’s most valuable industry, and one coveted by the EU: finance.

That has set off a land grab between the 27-nation bloc and the U.K. for lucrative financial transactions and the jobs and clout that come with them. The financial services sector has the biggest trade surplus of any industry in the U.K., with exports in 2019 of £79 billion, equivalent to $106 billion.

European regulators have demanded banks base certain operations currently conducted in London in the EU post-Brexit. Banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and exchange operators such as the London Stock Exchange Group PLC have set up trading operations on the continent in recent weeks. The EU last week committed to rules governing derivatives that will prevent London-based traders at EU banks from continuing business seamlessly after Brexit is completed on New Year’s Eve.

“This is part of a wider strategy of moving finance into the EU,” said Tim Cant, a London-based lawyer at Ashurst Group, which specializes in financial regulation. “It’s part of that wider movement of euro-denominated business into the eurozone.”

Assets worth £1.2 trillion are already heading to continental Europe from the U.K. following the country’s 2016 Brexit vote, according to accounting firm Ernst & Young, and hundreds of employees at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other banks are moving to Frankfurt, Paris and other European cities.

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