Applaud as trading begins

Financial trading companies in the UK

BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's legal challenge to a financial transactions tax was rejected by Europe's highest court, dealing another blow to attempts to shield London's financial centre from the influence of Brussels.

Wednesday's ruling throws out the legal action intended to prevent a group of 11 countries, including Germany and France, from introducing a trading tax, and was seized on by critics as evidence of the British government's impotence in fighting its corner in Europe.

Britain, where financial services account for a tenth of the economy, making the sector one of the country's biggest tax generators, had argued that trading in London would be affected, even though it would be outside the zone of a tax that is anyway likely to be scaled back.

The tax, intended as a way of clawing back some of the taxpayer cash paid to shore up banks in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, would consist of a small charge on each stock, bond and derivative trade carried out in the 11 countries.

But the court noted much of how the scheme will work remained to be decided and Britain had jumped the gun in challenging it now.

The British government said it could still take fresh legal action and pledged to fight for its interests in the face of ever-closer integration among countries using the euro.

But the defeat is symbolically significant, coming months after the same court dismissed Britain's bid to overturn a law banning short-selling of shares - where investors gamble on a share price decline by borrowing shares, which they sell in the hope of being able to buy them back at a lower level.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate ties with the EU and hold a referendum on Britain's membership if his Conservatives win a general election next year.

"This ... judgement shows that the UK cannot act to protect the UK's biggest interest, " said Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party.

"It shows Cameron's argument that the UK government can negotiate a better deal for British business from within the EU as a fraud and a farce."

The ruling could also give Farage's party ammunition in its anti-EU campaign for elections to the European Parliament next month, in which opinion polls indicate it could come second to the main opposition party Labour or even first. [ID:nL5N0MV4NY]

UNSTEADY ALLIANCE

The legal action is one of four over the past two years, in which Britain has sought to push back against new European rules or schemes that would hit its financial centre of the City of London. The UK also wants to change EU rules to curb banker bonuses.

Pursuing such cases has antagonised some, leading to criticism of Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

"The Chancellor should never have taken this case and used taxpayers' money to defend City fat cats, " said Frances O'Grady, general secretary of Britain's Trades Union Congress.

"It's time the financial sector paid its fair share of the costs of the economic crisis they helped cause."

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