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Can the UK go it Alone on Banking Reform? I just Don't Think so

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This is perhaps the most momentous day for British financial services since the de-regulation of "big bang" in the late 1980s.

The Vickers Report has delivered what we expected and a lot more. A high ring-fence is the outcome and a very high cost of capital - even higher than Switzerland's own ambitious plans for its banking sector.

The ICB seems to have rejected the view that these prescriptions for the reform of UK banking will damage the British sector - and claim that a long implementation period to 2019 will do the trick. Essentially Vickers is aligning the proposals with the current implementation timescale for the Basel III reforms. So the Chancellor, who has already indicated his broad support for these measures, will be able to claim British banking will be given enough time to get ready for these changes.

The Treasury was super quick to issue a reaction even before Sir John has given his mid-morning press conference. A Treasury spokesman confidently declared: "The Chancellor considers it to be an impressive report and an important step towards a new banking system that supports lending to businesses and families, supports the economy and jobs, but doesn't cost the taxpayer billions of pounds when it goes wrong."
Well that's alright then.

After days of headlines which have focused on the relationship between Vince Cable, who wants to go faster on reform, and George Osborne, who is in favour of the 2019 long implementation period, Government spin doctors will be pleased that, for today at least, the Coalition presents a united front.

But as the Treasury considers a comprehensive response - due before the end of 2011 and timed to coincide with the report of the Draft Financial Services Bill Committee in Parliament in December - watch out for Coalition tensions to re-emerge. No.10 let it be known a week ago that the Prime Minister has concerns over the scale of these proposals. Over the summer one Tory MP told me: "No10 is really concerned that the ICB creates headlines which point to more job losses in the banking sector and then in the wider economy."

Let's see.

In the end Vickers and his fellow Commissioners have taken the view that UK banking is too big for its own boots and too big for the UK economy. The Commission's view is therefore that the social cost would be very much lower than the private cost. With private costs said to be between £4-7bn, a range of £1bn-£3bn would seem reasonable for social costs given the proportion of private costs that results from removal of government guarantee and tax effects.

It seems the question of 'social utility' of the financial sector posed by FSA chairman Lord Turner over two years ago has been the ICB's guiding principle.

Finally, I'm in New York today where the US banking headlines are dominated by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon's call for the US to consider withdrawing from the Basel III process - a move which would throw all these reforms up in the air.

Is Vickers the final chapter on banking reform? Can the UK go it alone? I just don't think so.