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Some British Bankers Fighting For Their Rights More Than Others

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Perhaps rightfully so, British bankers have had it up to here [here] with their government. The anger stems from freaky ass rules officials would like to impose on financial services chippies (for instance, rules that would cap top execs’ cash bonuses at 20 percent of total total compensation and proposals to tax the shit out of them) and the general feeling that the government is too mean to bankers. So sick are they that enough is enough. Led by Barclays chief John Varley and British Bankers Association head Angela Knight, a "fresh effort" has been waged to say "we're not going to take this anymore." How serious is this thing? Serious enough to warrant a code name involving wizards.

...the so-called Project Merlin...[is demanding] a signal that there will not be any new taxes, following the £2.6bn balance sheet levy, and that ministers will not engage in another round of “banker bashing” in the spring, when annual bonuses are declared.

Where is the battle being fought? In the streets, with fisticuffs? Or around a conference room table?

Mr Varley and Angela Knight, chief executive of the British Bankers Association, on Monday hosted a conference call with other bank chairmen and chief executives from UK rivals in an attempt to revive the flagging initiative.

Does anyone care enough to have Team Merlin shirts printed up, or is John Varley the only guy working here?

Mr Varley’s efforts could yet come to naught. Standard Chartered, which had been part of the initiative, walked away several weeks ago. HSBC, which did not participate in a discussion last week, is known to have reservations, given how much of its business is generated outside the UK. And Santander UK, which is already expanding its lending, and has few highly paid investment bankers, has little to gain from signing up. Such scepticism fuelled one weekend report that the project was already dead – but even the sceptics admitted the attempts to revive it could work. “It’s struggling, but it’s still alive,” said one banker.

Sources within the Treasury and the business department are gloomy on prospects of a quick deal, echoing bankers’ belief that the original timetable of a pre-Christmas pact is now all but impossible. One Treasury source said on Tuesday: “The idea that government and banks come together in some grand bargain may not happen. We’ll see.”


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