Blog: UK defends new post-Brexit finance reforms – RTL Today

Britain on Friday launched a post-Brexit plan to relax curbs on its powerhouse City sector introduced after the 2008 financial crisis, denying the reforms will bring about new instability.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the government was not being reckless in scrapping “ringfencing” of assets held by the biggest banks, to separate their retail arms from riskier investment operations.

“No, the UK has always had and always will have an incredibly respected and robust system of regulation for the financial services sector,” Sunak told reporters.

“But it’s also important to make sure the industry is competitive -– there are a million people employed in financial services and they’re not just in London, in the City.”

The ringfencing policy was introduced after the 2008 global financial crisis, to help banks survive another meltdown.

The so-called “Edinburgh reforms”, announced in the Scottish capital by finance minister Jeremy Hunt, also eased capital requirements for smaller lenders.

The government has already said it plans to lift a cap on bankers’ bonuses, and to require UK regulators to prioritise growth and competitiveness, alongside market stability.

It says the reforms have been enabled by Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Brexit is allowing the government to “reshape our regulatory regime and unleash the full potential” of the finance industry, said Hunt, who voted in 2016 to stay in the EU.

He stressed that “we have learned the lessons of that (2008) crash, we put in place some very important guardrails, which will remain”.

“But the banks have become much healthier financially since 2008,” the chancellor said, adding the reforms would help the City better compete with US and Asian markets.

Since Brexit, the City has slipped behind Paris and Amsterdam by some measures. At Brussels’ insistence, UK finance was not covered by Britain’s EU trade treaty.

– No Brexit dividend? –

And there is mounting concern about the everyday effects on people and businesses of increased costs and border delays.

Brexit has not helped tame red-hot inflation or cut soaring food bills, according to recent research from the London School of Economics.

“I think this whole idea that there is a massive dividend from Brexit (for finance) is flawed,” economics professor Steve Schifferes at City, University of London, told AFP.

The ringfencing reform “is the most controversial bit (and) the most unwise” aspect of the proposals, he added.

Fran Boait, executive director of the pro-consumer campaign group Positive Money, said the end to ringfencing was “extremely concerning”.

“Behind the spin, today’s announcements amount to wide-ranging deregulation that threatens to destabilise an increasingly fragile financial sector, with huge risks to the public and little benefit,” she said.

– ‘Race to the bottom’ –

The opposition Labour party, which is tipped in opinion polls to form the next government, also expressed unease.

But Miles Celic, chief executive of business lobby group TheCityUK, welcomed the “comprehensive” package.

“Boosting the industry’s competitiveness and securing the UK’s position as a world-leading international financial centre is an investment in the nation’s success and in communities across the country,” he said.

Under the reforms, the Treasury said it would axe “hundreds of pages of burdensome” EU-era rules that are deemed detrimental to economic growth and company investment.

“This will establish a smarter regulatory framework for the UK that, is agile, less costly and more responsive to emerging trends,” it said.

However, the government’s push to deregulate after Brexit has run into criticism that it intends a “race to the bottom”, depriving Britons of important protections enacted by the EU.

Blog: Harry and Meghan series attack on Brexit ‘jingoism’ is wrong, says Lord Frost – Yahoo News

(REUTERS)

Tory peer Lord Frost has lashed out at the Harry and Meghan docuseries, saying its claim that 2016 Brexit referendum sparked an outbreak of “jingoism and nationalism” was wrong.

James Holt, executive director of the Sussexes’ Archewell Foundation, describes Brexit as a “perfect storm that gave credence to jingoism and nationalism” in the Netflix series.

The former Palace spokesperson said leaving the EU “gave people with really horrible views on the world a little bit more strength and confidence to say what they wanted to say”.

Harry added: “So the EU commissioned a report in 2016, exactly the same time that our relationship became public.

“It warned that if the government isn’t going to do anything or if the media aren’t going to sort themselves out, then a culture war, that already existed, was going to become huge and become a real problem.”

Lord Frost, Boris Johnson’s former Brexit minister, said the claims “resurrects the tired old criticism that our decision to leave the EU was driven by racism – and even asserts that such attitudes worsened pressures on their marriage”.

He told the Daily Mail: “This smear just does not stand up to examination. All opinion surveys show that Britain is an unusually welcoming country to people of all backgrounds, has among the lowest levels of racism in Europe, and is most positive about diversity.”

The Brexit hardliner also suggested the Sussexes’ “are either ignorant of the real facts or making deliberately incorrect claims for political reasons”.

No 10 said on Friday that boycotting Netflix was not government policy, after Tory minister Guy Opperman suggested he would stop watching the streaming platform over the Harry and Meghan’s criticism of the royal family.

“I would urge everyone to boycott Netflix and make sure that we actually focus on the things that matter,” the employment minister told BBC’s Question Time – calling the Sussexes a “troubled couple”.

A Downing Street spokesperson later told reporters that it was “a matter for the public what channels they want to watch”.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Bob Seely is planning to bring forward proposed legislation that could eventually strip Harry and Meghan of their royal titles.

The Isle of Wight accused the Duke of Sussex of “attacking” the monarchy, calling it a “political issue”.

He suggested he could bring forward a short private members’ bill in the new year that, if passed, would see the MPs vote on a resolution that could give the Privy Council the power to downgrade the couple’s royal status.

Blog: Brexit: 65% of voters say EU withdrawal has gone badly, poll finds – The Independent

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Two in three Britons believe Brexit has gone badly, a poll has found – the highest level of negativity since Boris Johnson’s trade deal come into force at the start of 2021.

Some 65 per cent of voters think Brexit was going badly and only 21 per cent say it is going well, the latest Opinium survey found.

Polling guru Prof John Curtice told The Independent that the results reflected a steady “erosion” in support for Brexit, mainly due to economic turmoil.

His own poll-of-polls analysis shows support from re-joining the EU at 57 per cent and staying out at 43 per cent if vote in another Brexit referendum.

“The proportion of people who say they would vote to re-join has been going up in the past year,” said Prof Curtice. “There is no doubt that there has been something of a decline in support for Brexit.”

He added: “The principal explanation for the shift seems to be to do with the economic consequences of Brexit. We are now somewhat more economically pessimistic about Brexit that we were.”

Prof Curtice said the trend has been evident since stories about empty supermarket shelves, lack of lorry drivers and wider workforce shortages emerged last year. “It’s the economy that matters, surprise surprise.”

The polling expert said immigration and the rise in small boats crossings in the English Channel may also have had an impact. “Leave voters have spotted that immigration has not gone down. One of the things that might have kept them loyal [to Brexit] is no longer there.”

Opinium’s December poll shows 31 per cent think Brexit had gone “fairy badly” and 34 per cent think it has gone “very badly” – the highest level of negativity about Brexit since January 2021, according to the National Centre for Social Research’s What UK Thinks tracker.

Some 36 per cent said Brexit had gone worse than expected, while only 8 per cent said it had gone better than expected, according to the Opinium poll.

It come as new analysis shows that consumers in the UK have cut back spending more than almost any other industrialised country – ranking 41st out of 43 nations.

Britons’ spending in the three months to September was 3.2 per cent below pre-Covid levels – the third worst across leading economics, according to Financial Times analysis.

Meanwhile, Prof Curtice has said Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives are set to lose around half of their MPs at the next general election based on current opinion polling.

The polling expert said the seats of chancellor Jeremy Hunt, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith appear particularly vulnerable.

“The Conservative Party, at the moment, on current polls would indeed lose half of all its MPs,” he told GB News. “It’s around a half and is actually no higher than the total proportion of all the Conservative MPs who are now likely to be at risk.”

Blog: Chancellor’s post-Brexit City reforms risk a “race to the bottom” – Yahoo News UK

Rishi Sunak (Getty Images)

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been accused of encouraging a “race to the bottom” after he unveiled ‘big bang’ plans to slash City red tape.

The sweeping package of more than 30 reforms, aimed at boosting Britain’s financial services sector and the UK’s flagging economy, is being billed by ministers as one of the big opportunities of Brexit.

But with the City bruised by the UK’s exit from the EU, critics and political opponents said reducing regulatory oversight of banks was unlikely to make up for the damage. Others added that loosening regulations could risk a repeat of previous banking failures.

Speaking on Friday morning Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the UK’s financial services industry would “always be a safe place where consumers will be protected.”

He added: “We’ve always had and always will have an incredibly respected and robust system of regulation for the financial services sector. That’s the right thing to do.

“But it’s also important to make sure that the industry is competitive.”

Frances Coppola, a banking analyst, told the BBC: “I think we have to be completely honest and say London is falling behind on competitiveness. And the reason is the form of Brexit that we had, which didn’t pay sufficient attention to the concerns of financial services companies.

“I don’t think we should ignore that there’s quite been quite a lot of damage. We certainly shouldn’t be using regulatory reforms as a form of compensation for the damage that has done to the financial services industry.”

Last month analysis by Bloomberg revealed that Paris has overtaken London as Europe’s biggest stock market.

The French stock market now has a combined value of $2.823 trillion, marginally above the UK stock market which is worth $2.821 trillion altogether, according to Bloomberg’s research.

Fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said Brexit caused a “significant adverse impact” to trade volumes and business relationships between UK and EU firms.

And the Chancellor conceded last month that leaving the EU had created trade barriers which will take time to remove.

The City reforms – dubbed the Edinburgh Reforms by the Treasury – were being outlined at a meeting between Mr Hunt, City minister Andrew Griffith and senior executives from banks including NatWest, TSB, Citi and Barclays in the Scottish capital this afternoon.

They include:

– Reforming the ring-fencing regime for banks to free companies with assets lower than £35billion from requirements to separate their retail banking services from their investment and international banking activities.

– Widening the role of City regulators the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority to include targets for growth and competitiveness.

– Repealing a series of laws and rules left over from the UK’s membership of the EU to boost City freedoms.

Mr Hunt said he wanted to secure the UK’s status “as one of the most open, dynamic and competitive financial services hubs in the world”.

He added: “The Edinburgh Reforms seize on our Brexit freedoms to deliver an agile and home-grown regulatory regime that works in the interest of British people and our businesses.

“We will go further – delivering reform of burdensome EU laws that choke off growth in other industries such as digital technology and life sciences.”

Mr Griffith said: “The UK is a financial services superpower – and we have long benefited from, and are committed to, high quality regulatory standards.

“Our reforms deliver smarter regulation of financial services that will unlock growth and opportunity in towns and cities across the UK.”

But Labour and the Liberal Democrats rounded on the plans, branding them rehashed.

Labour’s Shadow City Minster Tulip Siddiq said: “Introducing more risk and potentially more financial instability because you can’t control your backbenchers is this Tory government all over. That this comes after the Tories crashed our economy is beyond misguided.

“Reforms such as Ring Fencing and the Senior Managers Regime were introduced for good reason.

“The City doesn’t want weak consolation prizes for being sold down the river in the Tories’ Brexit deal, nor more empty promises on deregulation.

“Its competitiveness depends on high standards, not a race to the bottom.”

Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said: “It’s completely tone-deaf that this government is hiking taxes for hard-working families, while slashing taxes and boosting bonuses for the banks.

“The truth is no economic growth ever comes from empty promises made by a Conservative Chancellor.  All we’ve had from the chaos of recent months is the economy tanking, bills spiralling and then re-hashed statements like today.

“Our financial services need good and smart regulation, not more promises of slashing red tape, or a race to the bottom.”

But the City welcomed the proposals.

Simon French, chief economist at City broker Panmure Gordon, said: “This package of reforms appears to strike the right balance – without inviting back the risks that brought the global economy to its knees in 2008.”

Chris Hayward, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation, said: “It’s not a race to the bottom, in my view, it’s a chance to actually grow our economy and I think we should be very excited about it. It’s positive news for financial services.”

James Watkins, Head of Policy and Public Impact at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said: “We welcome the Government’s renewed efforts to boost the global competitiveness of The City and generate growth in our economy, and we are broadly supportive of the announcement this morning.

“London has a unique position among the world’s financial capitals and we must maintain its crucial competitive edge. We hope the details underpinning these reforms will protect and strengthen The City’s preeminent global position.”

However, Mr Watkins added: “Not all regulation is bad regulation and any changes must take into account potential risks to our financial and banking system.”

Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer, TheCityUK, said: “Boosting the industry’s competitiveness and securing the UK’s position as a world-leading international financial centre is an investment in the nation’s success and in communities across the country.

“This is a comprehensive package of reforms which, if implemented effectively and alongside the Financial Services & Markets Bill, should help boost the UK’s attractiveness as a place for businesses to list, invest, grow and do business.”

Blog: ‘Difficult to find staff’: Brexit and rising bills put paid to much-loved Greek deli in London Fields – Hackney Citizen

Isle of Olive was hit hard by new import and export regulations. Photograph: Isle of Olive

The Isle of Olive deli on Ada Street sadly shut its doors forever last month after 11 years.

The Hackney business was a favourite in the area for authentic varied Greek food and for their wine-tasting and supper club events.

Gregoris, who owned the business with Paulina, outlined the huge challenges that forced closure, from the combination of the events of Covid, Brexit and the Cost of Living Crisis.

The business took a slight hit when Covid limited the deli’s sales to online.

Gregoris told the Citizen: “We were fortunate because as a food business we were able to keep on operating and also the online sales at the time were really good.”

However, Brexit had a huge affect on the business.

“Brexit meant that for every invoice issued to us by a producer, there was a customs fee to be paid to agents in Greece and then another fee to the agent in the UK for the import declarations,” Gregoris explained.

It meant the deli owners had to start ordering in larger quantities, and cut their range of items.

It also forced them to stop selling to EU countries because the invoice receipts were too high.

New legislation required for businesses in the EU also made them to switch to wholesalers.

“All of this went against our goal as a business,” he said. “Our vision has always been to be able to work directly with small artisan producers and source unique products from Greece we could sell for reasonable prices.

“We have seen inflation skyrocket and energy prices have increased by three or four times. It has also become very difficult to find staff for basic jobs like service or running the till.

“The costs of the products themselves have increased as well because the small producers are facing challenges of their own.

“Our prices would have to rise so much that our products would now be accessible to only a very small number of people.”

The space will be taken over by the distinguished chef Oded Oren, a friend of Paulina and Gregoris, whose own cookery has been described as “verging on genius” by food critic Jay Rayner.

Oren, who runs a popular Dalston restaurant bearing his surname, plans to retain the site’s Mediterranean legacy.

Many fans of the deli showed their support when The Isle of Olive announced its closure on Instagram.

One comment reads: “You created a wonderful and completely genuine store. Sadly missed around here these days.”

Another said: “Really sad to hear this news. We absolutely loved our supper club events in the shop – wonderful produce and people. Wishing you all the best in the future.”

Gregoris said: “The highlight for us has to be the many evenings where we were hosting our culinary or wine-tasting events, where people from all over London would swarm to our shop to taste something new, learn about the food culture of Greece and meet and exchange opinions with other interesting people.”

Blog: Brexit Britain to build most advanced fighter jet in the WORLD: Self-flying ‘ultra stealth’ plane will be airborne by 2035 – GB News

Brexit Britain to build most advanced fighter jet in the WORLD: Self-flying ‘ultra stealth’ plane will be airborne by 2035

Next-gen fighter jets will keep our country safe, says Rishi Sunak

The Prime Minister said that a defence partnership with Italy and Japan to develop next-generation fighter jets will help “keep the country safe from the new threats that we face”.

Downing Street aims for the jets, called Tempest in the UK, to take to the skies by 2035 and serve as a successor to the RAF Typhoon.

The ambition is for the planes, developed under the global combat air programme (GCAP), to be enhanced by capabilities including uncrewed aircraft, advanced sensors and cutting-edge weapons.

They are being developed in response to military bosses’ fears that air dominance is being threatened.

Artist's impression issued by Downing Street of what the final design could look like for the next-generation of fighter jets developed under the Global Combat Air Programme

Artist’s impression issued by Downing Street of what the final design could look like for the next-generation of fighter jets developed under the Global Combat Air Programme
Downing Street

Rishi Sunak launched the first major phase of the programme during a visit to RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, on Friday.

He arrived at the base in an RAF Hercules plane and was welcomed by Chief of the Air Staff Sir Mike Wigston and RAF Coningsby’s station commander Billy Cooper.

Mr Sunak was shown Typhoon aircraft and went into a hangar to view a model of the Tempest jet that is being developed.

He told reporters the announcement of the defence partnership was “incredibly important”.

“We’re one of the few countries in the world that has the capability to build technologically advanced fighter aircraft,” the Prime Minister said.

“That’s important because it means we can keep the country safe from the new threats that we face.

“It also adds billions to our economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs across the country.

“But it’s also good for our international reputation.

“Today we are partnering with Italy and Japan, two of our closest allies, to build this next generation of aircraft that’s going to keep our country safe and it’s something we can all be very proud of.”

Mr Sunak said that the defence partnership will ensure the UK and allies are “outpacing and out-manoeuvring those who seek to do us harm”.

Ahead of the visit, he said: “The security of the United Kingdom, both today and for future generations, will always be of paramount importance to this government.

“That’s why we need to stay at the cutting-edge of advancements in defence technology – outpacing and out-manoeuvring those who seek to do us harm.

“The international partnership we have announced today with Italy and Japan aims to do just that, underlining that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible.

“The next-generation of combat aircraft we design will protect us and our allies around the world by harnessing the strength of our world-beating defence industry – creating jobs while saving lives.”

Artist's impression issued by Downing Street of what the final design could look like for the next-generation of fighter jets developed under the Global Combat Air Programme

Artist’s impression issued by Downing Street of what the final design could look like for the next-generation of fighter jets developed under the Global Combat Air Programme
Downing Street

The jet is expected to be able to fly faster than the speed of sound, and have the capability of firing hypersonic weapons in the future.

Working with the allies is hoped to share the costs and ensure the RAF can easily work with its closest partners, with the new Tempests being compatible with other Nato partners’ jets.

The partnership merges the UK and Italy’s future combat air system (FCAS) projects with the Japanese F-X programme.

Ministers hope that other countries may buy into GCAP in due course.

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Blog: German foreign minister blames Brexit for ‘opening old wounds’ ahead of Cleverly showdown – Express

German Foreign Minister Analena Baerbock has taken aim at Brexit ahead of a showdown with her UK counterpart James Cleverly. She said the UK’s decision to leave the EU put the Irish peace process at risk, saying the EU and UK have a responsibility to “protect and implement” the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

Ms Baebock said: “Brexit was and is a watershed for us all. That applies particularly to the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland due to the division of the island of Ireland.

“It was only in 1998 that the Good Friday Agreement brought peace after more than 30 years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland.

“This peace, the fact that hostilities have ceased and both Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland can once again live alongside one another in a spirit of good neighbourliness must not be jeopardised under any circumstances.”

She added: “Yet precisely this is at stake as a result of Brexit and its consequences for trade, freedom of movement and other issues.”

Ms Baerbock said the Protocol prevented “a hard border on the island of Ireland and thus also the reopening of the old wounds”.

She added: “All of us – in the EU member states and in the United Kingdom – have a responsibility to protect and to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Her comments came after the UK Foreign Secretary suggested that Germany’s position on the protocol might not be as strong as it seems.

Mr Cleverly said Germany’s strong commitment to the Northern Ireland Protocol was “an avatar”, adding: “I think often what people say they want and what people actually want are subtly different”.

The German government signed a coalition agreement which explicitly states that post-Brexit agreements, including the Northern Ireland Protocol, had to be “fully implemented”.

The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.

It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.

The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.

There has been no functioning government in Stormont since the elections last May, as the DUP has refused to restore powersharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.

An election was triggered in Stormont in October after the executive was blocked from meeting due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Earlier this week, a bill extending the deadline for fresh elections to be held in Northern Ireland passed its third reading in the Commons.

The bill – introduced by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris last week – is being fast-tracked through Parliament, passing all three stages in one day.

It will extend the deadline for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be formed until December 8, with the possibility of a further six-week extension to 19 January.

There has been no functioning government in Stormont since the elections last May, as the DUP has refused to restore powersharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.

Blog: Brexit woes contribute to slim Old Master sales in London – Art Newspaper

“Nine point-five million for the Titian. Nine point-five,” intoned Sotheby’s auctioneer Harry Dalmeny on Wednesday, moments before he hammered down one of the dozen surviving versions of Venus and Adonis for the top price at the firm’s evening sale of Old Master paintings in London.

A two metre-wide “Titian” selling for the price of a run-of-The-Factory Warhol silkscreen pretty well sums up the current state of the Old Master market in the UK. With the supply of A-plus works by A-plus artists all but dried up, international auction houses like Sotheby’s are having to make the most of B-plus paintings by famous names.

Scrupulously catalogued as “Titian and Workshop”, this canvas, painted around 1555 of the doomed hunter Adonis’s last embrace with an infatuated Venus, was derived from a celebrated primary version of the Ovid-inspired “poesia” which the Venetian master painted for Phillip II of Spain, now in the Prado, Madrid.

This undeniably imposing painting, entered by the family of the Swiss collector Patrick de Charmant, had failed to sell at auction on at least four occasions over the centuries, suggesting that the market had traditionally thought it more workshop than Titian.

Nonetheless, Titian is a famous Old Master brand, and Sotheby’s knows how to market brands. On the night, at least three telephone bidders were in competition, the lot eventually falling to that £9.5m hammer bid, adding up to £11.2m with fees, taken by George Wachter, Sotheby’s New York-based chairman of Old Masters. The painting had been estimated at £8m-£12m.

To put the price in perspective, two autograph quality Titian canvases from that same series of mythological “poesie” were sold by the Duke of Sutherland to the nation for £50m and £45m respectively in 2009 and 2012. The record auction price for an Andy Warhol is £158m.

This latest series of pre-Christmas evening auctions of Old Masters in London saw Sotheby’s and Christie’s each offering slimline selections of around 30 lots. Sotheby’s had the edge this time round, thanks to the inclusion of the Titian and 17 paintings that had been owned by the Spanish collector Juan Manuel Grasset, who died in 2020.

An engineer by profession, Grasset had a taste for precise, but opulent 17th-century Dutch and Flemish still lifes. The pick of these was the beautifully observed panel painting of flowers in a glass vase with insects and fruits by the Utrecht painter Jan Davidsz. De Heem, dating from the 1660s. The work had been bought by Grasset at Sotheby’s in 1987 for £200. Thirty-five years later, five bidders pushed the price up to £2.7m, almost double the high estimate.

The Grasset collection’s early Caneletto went for an underwhelming £3.7m at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s

The Grasset Collection also included a fine, relatively early Canaletto painting of the Grand Canal, Venice, dating from the late 1730s. More atmospheric than many of Caneletto’s vedute, particularly in terms of its treatment of the sky and sunlit architectural details, this had been bought by Grasset for around £3m in 2008. Dealers in the room were a bit mystified when it sold here to an online bidder for underwhelming £3.7m.

“The condition wasn’t 100%, but it was the best Canaletto offered this year,” says Charles Beddington, a London Old Master dealer who specialises in views of Venice.

Covered by pre-auction guarantees, all but one of the Grasset paintings sold, raising £12.7m, above the high estimate of £10.8m.

“It was a lovely collection, but it was yesterday’s taste. I was worried it would struggle in today’s market,” says Anthony Crichton-Stuart, the director of the London dealership Agnews. “It did really well.”

Overall, Sotheby’s auction achieved a high estimate £33m from 37 lots. There might not have been much bidding from the trade in the room and sales were bolstered by some incongruous later 19th-century paintings, like Lord Leighton’s Old Damascus at £2.2m, but the total was nonetheless the highest for a Sotheby’s Old Masters auction in six seasons.

There isn’t much in the Old Master market that can be described as today’s taste, but finely observed 17th-century still lifes, particularly with reflections in glass, like Sotheby’s De Heem, seem to have a timeless appeal.

A signed and dated 1629 panel painting of a glass roemer, pocket watch and other objects on a ledge by the Haarlem artist Willem Claesz Heda was one of the few works to generate sustained competition at Christie’s £13.1m Old Master paintings sale of just 27 lots the following evening. The total was at least 26% up on Christie’s equivalent sale last December.

Not seen on the auction market since 1919, the Heda inspired a protracted battle between two telephone bidders up to £756,000, three times the pre-sale upper estimate.

Italian view paintings at Christie’s from an “important European collection”, by contrast, seemed very yesterday’s taste. Four lots of middling-quality vedute by names like Francesco Guardi and Antonio Joli all sold for single bids between £138,600 and £315,000.

“It was what it was,” says Nick Hall, an Old Master dealer based in New York, commenting on the quality on offer at Christie’s. Hall, like many trade observers, see how difficult it has become for Sotheby’s and Christie’s to present high quality evening sales of Old Masters in post-Brexit London in both June and December. In New York, where many of the key buyers are concentrated, the two main houses now concentrate their best consignments into one auction in January. “That’s where the market is,” Hall adds.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s New York-based experts were conspicuously active taking telephone bids at these latest London sales, which was hardly surprising, given the dollar’s current strength against sterling.

At Christie’s, Manhattan-based staffers Francois de Poortere and Jennifer Wright took competing bids for Jean-François de Troy’s superb quality, The Reading Party, signed and dated 1735, showing a trio of fashionably dressed friends entranced by a book being read aloud in a forest glade. De Troy might not be many people’s idea of an A+ artist, but this was certainly an A+ quality French 18th-century painting. De Troy made just 11 of these painstakingly observed tableaux de mode. Entered from the collection of the English industrialist Lord Weinstock, it topped Christie’s sale with a price of £2.9m against a low estimate of £2m.

“De Troy’s tableaux de mode are among the most beautiful French rococo things,” Hall says. “And they’re very rare. Whoever bought that, bought a very good painting.”

It says a lot about the current state of the art market—and our culture generally—that this museum-quality masterpiece of 18th-century French painting made exactly the same auction price in dollars ($3.6m) as the record paid in March for a two-year old canvas by Flora Yukhnovich inspired by a French 18th-century painting.

When, if ever, is the Bitcoin finally going to drop?