Why is London filling up with the very very rich?

Foreign investors flooding in.

The allure of the UK to overseas buyers has been apparent for some time and certainly long before we had a home-grown Wimbledon champion, victorious rugby and cricket teams, the birth of a Royal baby and what seems like endless blue skies and hot sunshine!

Indeed, much has been made of the influx of high net worth non-UK nationals to London and its impact on London’s buoyant prime residential property market. Undeterred in most cases by the recent hike in stamp duty land tax rates imposed upon houses priced at more than £2m, statistics show that foreign investors (and especially those who are victims of the worldwide economic turmoil, euro crisis and rising wealth taxes in their home countries) continue to look to London.

It is understood that between 45 and 65 per cent of London’s most desirable areas are owned by high net worth individuals from abroad. But, what is it that makes UK, and in particular, London, so desirable?

Recent commentary suggests that one explanation for the movement of foreign investment into the UK is that beneficial exchange rates are effectively giving those buying into London huge purchasing power, with some currencies having appreciated as much as 45 per cent against sterling over the past five years. 

Overseas buyers can, therefore, enjoy a healthy discount on their property investment as a direct result of the depreciation of sterling – the deals often made even sweeter by the UK’s low interest rates.

However, experience shows that, while these economic factors are no doubt influential, there are a number of other drivers of market demand such as the UK’s stable legal system as well as its status as an unlikely low tax jurisdiction.

Indeed, the UK has an established history of political and social stability, coupled with a sophisticated legal system, and comprehensive (if occasionally unwieldy) tax code. It boasts a comprehensive network of bilateral tax treaties: principally in respect of income tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax but also inheritance tax. 

In particular, the tax regime is highly beneficial for individuals who become resident in the UK without also becoming "domiciled" here – provided they structure their affairs appropriately.

Furthermore, it is relatively simple for international UHNWs to come to the UK. As a member state of the European Union, EU citizens of course benefit from the fundamental freedom of free movement. However, for non-EU/EEA nationals, it is possible to obtain an "investor visa" by making a £1m, £5m, or £10m investment in specified "permitted investments" in the UK (with a view to obtaining settlement in the UK within 2-5 years). Surely a relatively inexpensive gateway to the UK?

The UK investment opportunities generated by strong currencies may be relatively short-lived. Much the same might be said for this glorious weather. However, London has long been regarded as a key international business centre, a safe political haven, extremely strong in its professional services offering and a centre of educational excellence. It is perhaps, therefore, not so difficult to see why, all things considered, London really is the capital city of choice for the internationally mobile UNHWs.

Lydia Essa works for private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

This piece first appeared on Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.