Profile: Bernard Arnault, France’s fickle billionaire

Thirty years of fleeing the French.

The year was 1981 and François Mitterrand had just been elected the first socialist French President in 23 years. His "110 Propositions for France" included some long suppressed socialist party policies: nationalisation, increased minimum wage and a 39 hour week. But of more concern to Bernard Arnault, who’s family owned a construction and property company out of Roubaix, was the L'impôt de solidarité sur la fortune – the solidarity wealth tax.    

Did Arnault stick around to pay his taxes? Not at all. Taking the family cash (then about 40m francs), he fled to Florida and spent the next three years buying up Palm Beach condominiums.  He only returned to France years later to buy Christian Dior and LVMH in 1987. 

With another socialist government in power, why are the French media so enraged that Arnault is planning to do it again? Filling headlines with obscenities and untranslatable swear words is not going to stop a man who for over thirty years has fled French wealth taxes. The only question that remains is whether he follows France’s second richest family, the Mulliezs’, to Belgium or goes to Britain where he has already been welcomed by the Queen with a KBE. Wherever he goes there are sure to be many billionaires that follow.

Bernard Arnault. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.