United Kingdom

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Market entry for U.S. firms is facilitated by a common language, legal heritage, and similar business institutions and practices.  The UK is well supported by sophisticated financial and professional services industries and has a transparent tax system in which local and foreign-owned companies are taxed alike.  The pound sterling is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.  There are no exchange controls restricting the transfer of funds associated with an investment into or out of the UK.

UK legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international standards.  The UK legal system provides a high level of investor protections.  Private ownership is protected by law and monitored for competition-restricting behavior.  U.S. exporters and investors generally will find little difference between the United States and the UK in the conduct of business, and common law prevails as the basis for commercial transactions in the UK.

The UK actively encourages inward FDI.  The Department for International Trade, including through its newly created Office for Investment, actively promotes inward investment and prepares market information for a variety of industries.  U.S. companies establishing British subsidiaries generally encounter no special nationality requirements on directors or shareholders.  Once established in the UK, foreign-owned companies are treated no differently from UK firms.  The UK government is a strong defender of the rights of any British-registered company, irrespective of its nationality of ownership.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is limited in only a few private sector companies for national security reasons, such as Rolls Royce (aerospace) and BAE Systems (aircraft and defense).  No individual foreign shareholder may own more than 15 percent of these companies.  Theoretically, the government can block the acquisition of manufacturing assets from abroad by invoking the Industry Act of 1975, but it has never done so.  Investments in energy and power generation require environmental approvals. Certain service activities (like radio and land-based television broadcasting) are subject to licensing.

The UK requires that at least one director of any company registered in the UK be ordinarily resident in the country.

The UK’s National Security and Investment Act, which came into effect in May 2021, significantly strengthened the UK’s existing investment screening powers.  Investments resulting in foreign control generally exceeding 15 percent of companies in 17 sectors pertaining to national security require mandatory notifications to the UK government’s Investment Security Unit (see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/965784/nsi-scope-of-mandatory-regime-gov-response.pdf for details).  The regime operates separately from competition law.  The bill provides authority to a newly created Investment Security Unit to review investments retroactively for a period of five years.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Economist Intelligence Unit, World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2020,” and the OECD’s Economic Forecast Summary (December 2020) have current investment policy reports for the United Kingdom:

http://country.eiu.com/united-kingdom

http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/united-kingdom/

https://www.oecd.org/economy/united-kingdom-economic-snapshot/  

Business Facilitation

The UK government has promoted administrative efficiency to facilitate business creation and operation.  The online business registration process is clearly defined, though some types of companies cannot register as an overseas firm in the UK, including partnerships and unincorporated bodies.  Registration as an overseas company is only required when the company has some degree of physical presence in the UK.  After registering their business with the UK governmental body Companies House, overseas firms must separately register to pay corporation tax within three months.  On average, the process of setting up a business in the UK requires 13 days, compared to the European average of 32 days, putting the UK in first place in Europe and sixth in the world.

As of April 2016, companies have to declare all “persons of significant control.”  This policy recognizes that individuals other than named directors can have significant influence on a company’s activity and that this information should be transparent.  More information is available at this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-the-people-with-significant-control-requirements-for-companies-and-limited-liability-partnerships.  Companies House maintains a free, publicly searchable directory, available at https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company.

The UK offers a welcoming environment to foreign investors, with foreign equity ownership restrictions in only a limited number of sectors covered by the World Bank’s Investing Across Sectors indicators.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-trade

https://www.gov.uk/set-up-business

https://www.gov.uk/topic/company-registration-filing/starting-company

http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/united-kingdom/starting-a-business

Special Section on the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies

The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) comprise Anguilla, British Antarctic Territory, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.  The BOTs retain a substantial measure of authority for their own affairs.  Local self-government is usually provided by an Executive Council and elected legislature.  Governors or Commissioners are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the British Foreign Secretary, and retain responsibility for external affairs, defense, and internal security.

Many of the territories are now broadly self-sufficient.  The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department (FCDO), however, maintains development assistance programs in St. Helena, Montserrat, and Pitcairn. This includes budgetary aid to meet the islands’ essential needs and development assistance to help encourage economic growth and social development in order to promote economic self-sustainability.  In addition, all other BOTs receive small levels of assistance through “cross-territory” programs for issues such as environmental protection, disaster prevention, HIV/AIDS, and child protection.

Seven of the BOTs have financial centers:  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  These territories have committed to the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for the automatic exchange of taxpayer financial account information.  They have long exchanged information with the UK, and began exchanging information with other jurisdictions under the CRS from September 2017.

Of the BOTs, Anguilla is the only one to receive a “non-compliant” rating by the Global Forum for Exchange of Information on Request, putting it on the EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions.  The Global Forum has rated the other six territories as “largely compliant.”  Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, and the Turks and Caicos Islands have committed in reciprocal bilateral arrangements with the UK to hold beneficial ownership information in central registers or similarly effective systems, and to provide UK law enforcement authorities with near real-time access to this information.

Anguilla:  Anguilla has no income, capital gains, estate, profit or other forms of direct taxation on either individuals or corporations, for residents or non-residents of the jurisdiction.  The territory has no exchange rate controls.  Non-Anguillan nationals may purchase property, but the transfer of land to an alien includes a 12.5 percent tax on the assessed value of the property or the sales proceeds, whichever is greater.

British Virgin Islands:  The government of the British Virgin Islands offers a series of tax incentive packages aimed at reducing the cost of doing business on the islands.  This includes relief from corporation tax payments over specific periods, but companies must pay an initial registration fee and an annual license fee to the BVI Financial Services Commission.  Crown land grants are not available to non-British Virgin Islanders, but private land can be leased or purchased following the approval of an Alien Land Holding License.  Stamp duty is imposed on transfers of real estate and the transfer of shares in a BVI company owning real estate in the BVI at a rate of four percent for belongers (i.e., residents who have proven they meet a legal standard of close ties to the territory) and 12 percent for non-belongers.  There is no corporate income tax, capital gains tax, branch tax, or withholding tax for companies incorporated under the BVI Business Companies Act.  Payroll tax is imposed on every employer and self-employed person who conducts business in BVI.  The tax is paid at a graduated rate depending upon the size of the employer.  The current rates are 10 percent for small employers (those which have a payroll of less than $150,000, a turnover of less than $300,000 and fewer than seven employees) and 14 percent for larger employers.  Eight percent of the total remuneration is deducted from the employee, the remainder of the liability is met by the employer.  The first $10,000 of remuneration is free from payroll tax.

Cayman Islands:  There are no direct taxes in the Cayman Islands.  In most districts, the government charges stamp duty of 7.5 percent on the value of real estate at sale, but certain districts, including Seven Mile Beach, are subject to a rate of nine percent.  There is a one percent fee payable on mortgages of less than KYD 300,000, and one and a half percent on mortgages of KYD 300,000 or higher.  There are no controls on the foreign ownership of property and land.  Investors can receive import duty waivers on equipment, building materials, machinery, manufacturing materials, and other tools.

Falkland Islands:  Companies located in the Falkland Islands are charged corporation tax at 21 percent on the first £1 million ($1.4 million) and 26 percent for all amounts in excess of £1 million ($1.4 million).  The individual income tax rate is 21 percent for earnings below £12,000 ($16,800) and 26 percent above this level.

Gibraltar:  With BREXIT, Gibraltar is not currently a part of the EU, but under the terms of an agreement in principle reached between the UK and Spain on December 31, 2020, it is set to become a part of the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel area.  The UK and EU are set to begin negotiations on a treaty on the movement of people and goods between Gibraltar and the bloc.  Gibraltar has a buoyant economy with a stable currency and few restrictions on moving capital or repatriating dividends.  The corporate income tax rate is 20 percent for utility, energy, and fuel supply companies, and 10 percent for all other companies.  There are no capital or sales taxes.

Montserrat:   Foreign investors are permitted to acquire real estate, subject to the acquisition of an Alien Land Holding license, which carries a fee of five percent of the purchase price.  The government also imposes stamp and transfer fees of 2.6 percent of the property value on all real estate transactions.  Foreign investment in Montserrat is subject to the same taxation rules as local investment and is eligible for tax holidays and other incentives.  Montserrat has preferential trade agreements with the United States, Canada, and Australia.  The government allows 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses, but the administration of public utilities remains wholly in the public sector.

St. Helena:  The  government offers tax-based incentives, which are considered on the merits of each project – particularly tourism projects.  All applications are processed by Enterprise St. Helena, the business development agency.

Pitcairn Islands:  The Pitcairn Islands have approximately 50 residents, with a workforce of approximately 29 employed in 10 full-time equivalent roles.  The territory does not have an airstrip or a commercially viable harbor.  Residents exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handcrafts.

The Turks and Caicos Islands:  Through an “open arms” investment policy, the government commits to a streamlined business licensing system, a responsive immigration policy to give investment security, access to government-owned land under long-term leases, and a variety of duty concessions to qualified investors.  The islands have a “no tax” policy, but property purchasers must pay a stamp duty on purchases over $25,000.  Depending on the island, the stamp duty rate may be up to 6.5 percent for purchases up to $250,000, eight percent for purchases $250,001 to $500,000, and 10 percent for purchases over $500,000.

The Crown Dependencies:  The Crown Dependencies are the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.  The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown.  This means they have their own directly elected legislative assemblies, administrative, fiscal and legal systems, and their own courts of law.  The Crown Dependencies are not represented in the UK Parliament.  The following tax data are current as of April 2021:

Jersey’s standard rate of corporate tax is zero percent.  The exceptions to this standard rate are financial service companies, which are taxed at 10 percent; utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent; and income specifically derived from Jersey property rentals or Jersey property development, taxed at 20 percent.  A five percent VAT is applicable in Jersey.

Guernsey has a zero percent rate of corporate tax.  Exceptions include some specific banking activities, taxed at 10 percent; utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent; Guernsey residents’ assessable income is taxed at 20 percent; and income derived from land and buildings is taxed at 20 percent.

The Isle of Man’s corporate standard tax is zero percent.  The exceptions to this standard rate are income received from banking business, which is taxed at 10 percent, and income received from land and property in the Isle of Man, which is taxed at 20 percent.  In addition, a 10 percent tax rate also applies to companies which carry on a retail business in the Isle of Man and have taxable income in excess of £500,000 ($695,000) from that business.  A 20 percent rate of VAT is applicable in the Isle of Man.

Outward Investment

The UK is one of the largest outward investors in the world, undergirded by numerousbilateral investment treaties (BITs) .  The UK’s international investment position abroad (outward investment) increased from £1,453 billion ($1,938) in 2018 to £1,498 ($1,912) by the end of 2019.  The main destination for UK outward FDI is the United States, which accounted for approximately 25 percent of UK outward FDI stocks at the end of 2019.  Other key destinations include the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Spain which, together with the United States, account for a little under half of the UK’s outward FDI stock.  Europe and the Americas remain the dominant areas for UK international investment positions abroad, accounting for eight of the top 10 destinations for total UK outward FDI.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The UK has concluded 105 bilateral investment treaties, which are known in the UK as Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPAs).  These include:  Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, China SAR, Hungary, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea Republic of, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, United Republic of Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

For a complete current list, including actual treaty texts, see:  http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/221#iiaInnerMenu

3. Legal Regime

International Regulatory Considerations

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU may result in a period in which the future regulatory direction of the UK is uncertain as the UK determines the extent to which it will either maintain and enforce the current EU regulatory regime or deviate towards new regulations in any particular sector.  The UK is an independent member of the WTO and actively seeks to comply with all WTO obligations.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. exporters and investors generally will find little difference between the United States and UK in the conduct of business.  The regulatory system provides clear and transparent guidelines for commercial engagement.  Common law prevails in the UK as the basis for commercial transactions, and the International Commercial Terms (INCOTERMS) of the International Chambers of Commerce are accepted definitions of trading terms.  As of 1 January 2021 firms in the UK must use the UK-adopted international accounting standards (IAS) instead of the EU-adopted IAS in terms of accounting standards and audit provisions. .  The UK’s Accounting Standards Board provides guidance to firms on accounting standards and works with the IASB on international standards.

Statutory authority over prices and competition in various industries is given to independent regulators, primarily the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).  Other sector regulators with some jurisdiction over competition include, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat), the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), the Rail Regulator, and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA).  The PRA was created out of the dissolution of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2013.  The PRA reports to the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) in the Bank of England.  The PRA is responsible for supervising the safety and soundness of individual financial firms, while the FPC takes a systemic view of the financial system and provides macro-prudential regulation and policy actions.  The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) acts as a single integrated regulator focused on enforcement of the UK’s competition laws.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is a regulator that addresses financial and market misconduct through legally reviewable processes.  These regulators work to protect the interests of consumers while ensuring that the markets they regulate are functioning efficiently.  Most laws and regulations are published in draft for public comment prior to implementation.  The FCA maintains a free, publicly searchable register of their filings on regulated corporations and individuals here: https://register.fca.org.uk/

The UK government publishes regulatory actions, including draft text and executive summaries, on the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy webpage listed below.  The current policy requires the repeal of two regulations for any new one in order to make the business environment more competitive.

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/business-regulation

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/regulatory-delivery

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The UK is a common-law country.  UK business contracts are legally enforceable in the UK, but not in the United States or other foreign jurisdictions.  International disputes are resolved through litigation in the UK Courts or by arbitration, mediation, or some other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method.  The UK has a long history of applying the rule of law to business disputes.  The current judicial process remains procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, which helps position London as an international hub for dispute resolution with over 10,000 cases filed per annum.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Outside of national security reviews of investment in the 17 sectors deemed to be central to national security per the National Security and Investment Act, few statutes govern or restrict foreign investment in the UK.  The procedure for establishing a company in the UK is identical for British and foreign investors.  No approval mechanisms exist for foreign investment, apart from the process outlined in Section 1.  Foreigners may freely establish or purchase enterprises in the UK, with a few limited exceptions, and acquire land or buildings.  As noted above, the UK is currently reviewing its procedures and has proposed new rules for restricting foreign investment in those sectors of the economy with higher risk for adversely impairing national security.

Alleged tax avoidance by multinational companies, including by several major U.S. firms, has been a controversial political issue and subject of investigations by the UK Parliament and EU authorities.  Foreign and UK firms are subject to the same tax laws, however, and several UK firms have also been criticized for tax avoidance.  Foreign investors may have access to certain EU and UK regional grants and incentives designed to attract industry to areas of high unemployment, but these do not include tax concessions.  Access to EU grants ended on December 31, 2020.

The UK flattened its structure of corporate tax rates in 2015, toa flat rate of 19 percent for non-ring-fenced companies, with marginal tax relief granted for companies with profits falling between £300,000 ($420,000) and £1.5 million ($2.1 million).   There are different Corporation Tax rates for companies that make profits from oil extraction or oil rights in the UK or UK continental shelf.  These are known as “ring fence” companies.  Small ”ring fence” companies are taxed at a rate of 19 percent for profits up to £300,000 ($420,000), and 30 percent for profits over £300,000 ($420,000).  A special rate of 20 percent is given to unit trusts and open-ended investment companies.

On March 3, 2021, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that, starting in 2023, UK corporate tax would increase to 25 percent for companies with profits over £250,000 ($346,000).  A small profits rate (SPR) will also be introduced for companies with profits of £50,000 ($69,000) or less so that they will continue to pay Corporation Tax at 19 percent.  Companies with profits between £50,000 ($69,000) and £250,000 ($346,000) will pay tax at the main rate reduced by a marginal relief providing a gradual increase in the effective Corporation Tax rate.

Tax deductions are allowed for expenditure and depreciation of assets used for trade purposes.  These include machinery, plant, industrial buildings, and assets used for research and development.

The UK has a simple system of personal income tax.  The marginal tax rates for 2020-2021 are as follows: up to £12,500 ($17,370), 0 percent; £12,501 ($17,370) to £50,000 ($69,481), 20 percent; £50,001 ($69,481) to £150,000 ($208,444), 40 percent; and over £150,000 ($208,444), 45 percent.

UK citizens also make mandatory payments of about 12 percent of income into the National Insurance system, which funds social security and retirement benefits.  The UK requires non-domiciled residents of the UK to either pay tax on their worldwide income or the tax on the relevant part of their remitted foreign income being brought into the UK.  If they have been resident in the UK for seven tax years of the previous nine, and they choose to pay tax only on their remitted earnings, they may be subject to an additional charge of £30,000 ($42,000).  If they have been resident in the UK for 12 of the last 14 tax years, they may be subject to an additional charge of £60,000 ($84,000).

The Scottish Parliament has the legal power to increase or decrease the basic income tax rate in Scotland, currently 20 percent, by a maximum of three percentage points.

For further guidance on laws and procedures relevant to foreign investment in the UK, follow the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/investment-in-the-uk-guidance-for-overseas-businesses

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

UK competition law prohibits anti-competitive behavior within the UK through Chapters I and II of the Competition Act of 1998 and the Enterprise Act of 2002.  The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is responsible for implementing these laws by investigating potentially anti-competitive behaviors, including cases involving state aid, cartel activity, or mergers that threaten to reduce the competitive market environment.  While merger notification in the UK is voluntary, the CMA may impose substantial fines or suspense orders on potentially non-compliant transactions.  The CMA has no prosecutorial authority, but it may refer entities for prosecution in extreme cases, such as those involving cartel activity, which carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.  The CMA is also responsible for ensuring consumer protection, conducting market research, and coordinating with sectoral regulators, such as those involved in the regulation of the UK’s energy, water, and telecommunications markets.

On January 1, 2021, the UK began reviewing cross-border activities with a UK-EU nexus in parallel to the European Commission.  On April 8, 2021, the UK established the Digital Markets Unit, a new regulatory body that will be responsible for implementing upcoming changes to competition rules in digital markets.

UK competition law requires:

1) the prohibition of agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business entities (this includes in particular the repression of cartels);

2) the banning of abusive behavior by a firm dominating a market, or anti-competitive practices that tend to lead to such a dominant position (practices controlled in this way may include predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, refusal to deal and many others); and,

3) the supervision of mergers and acquisitions of large corporations, including some joint ventures.

Any transactions which could threaten competition also fall into scope of the UK’s regulators.  UK law provides for remedies to problematic transactions, such as an obligation to divest part of the merged business or to offer licenses or access to facilities to enable other businesses to continue competing.  In addition to the CMA, the Takeover Panel, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Pensions Regulator have principal regulatory authority:

  • The Takeover Panel is an independent body, operating per the City Code on Takeover and Mergers(the “Code”), which regulates takeovers of public companies,  centrally managed or controlled in the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.  The Code provides a binding set of rules for takeovers aimed at ensuring fair treatment for all shareholders in takeover bids, including requiring bidders to provide information about their intentions after a takeover.
  • The Financial Conduct Authority administers Listing Rules, Prospectus Regulation Rules, and Disclosure Guidance and Transparency Rules, which can apply to takeovers of publicly-listed companies.
  • The Pensions Regulator has powers to intervene in investments in pension schemes.

Expropriation and Compensation

The UK is a member of the OECD and adheres to the OECD principle that when a government expropriates property, compensation should be timely, adequate, and effective.  In the UK, the right to fair compensation and due process is uncontested and is reflected in all international investment agreements.  Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament.  In response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the UK government nationalized Northern Rock Bank (sold to Virgin Money in 2012) and took major stakes in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds Banking Group.

Dispute Settlement

As a member of the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the UK accepts binding international arbitration between foreign investors and the State.  As a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the UK provides local enforcement on arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

London is a thriving center for the resolution of international disputes through arbitration under a variety of procedural rules such as those of the London Court of International Arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and others.  Many of these arbitrations involve parties with no connection to the jurisdiction, but who are drawn to the jurisdiction because they perceive it to be a fair, neutral venue with an arbitration law and courts that support competent and efficient resolution of disputes.  They also choose London-based arbitration because of the general prevalence of the English language and law in international commerce.  A wide range of contractual and non-contractual claims can be referred to arbitration in this jurisdiction including disputes involving intellectual property rights, competition, and statutory claims.  There are no restrictions on foreign nationals acting as arbitration counsel or arbitrators in this jurisdiction.  There are few restrictions on foreign lawyers practicing in the jurisdiction as evidenced by the fact that over 200 foreign law firms have offices in London.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In addition to its membership in ICSID, the UK is a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The latter convention has territorial application to Gibraltar (September 24, 1975), Hong Kong (January 21, 1977), Isle of Man (February 22, 1979), Bermuda (November 14, 1979), Belize and Cayman Islands (November 26, 1980), Guernsey (April 19, 1985), Bailiwick of Jersey (May 28, 2002), and British Virgin Islands (February 24, 2014).

The United Kingdom has consciously elected not to follow the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  Enforcement of an arbitral award in the UK is dependent upon where the award was granted.  The process for enforcement in any particular case is dependent upon the seat of arbitration and the arbitration rules that apply.  Arbitral awards in the UK can be enforced under a number of different regimes, namely:  The Arbitration Act 1996, The New York Convention, The Geneva Convention 1927, The Administration of Justice Act 1920 and the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, and Common Law.

The Arbitration Act 1996 governs all arbitrations seated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, both domestic and international.  The full text of the Arbitration Act can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/23/data.pdf.

The Arbitration Act is heavily influenced by the UNCITRAL Model Law, but it has some important differences.  For example, the Arbitration Act covers both domestic and international arbitration; the document containing the parties’ arbitration agreement need not be signed; an English court is only able to stay its own proceedings and cannot refer a matter to arbitration; the default provisions in the Arbitration Act require the appointment of a sole arbitrator as opposed to three arbitrators; a party retains the power to treat its party-nominated arbitrator as the sole arbitrator in the event that the other party fails to make an appointment (where the parties’ agreement provides that each party is required to appoint an arbitrator); there is no time limit on a party’s opposition to the appointment of an arbitrator; parties must expressly opt out of most of the provisions of the Arbitration Act which confer default procedural powers on the arbitrators; and there are no strict rules governing the exchange of pleadings.  Section 66 of the Arbitration Act applies to all domestic and foreign arbitral awards.  Sections 100 to 103 of the Arbitration Act provide for enforcement of arbitral awards under the New York Convention 1958.  Section 99 of the Arbitration Act provides for the enforcement of arbitral awards made in certain countries under the Geneva Convention 1927.

UK courts have a good record of enforcing arbitral awards.  The courts will enforce an arbitral award in the same way that they will enforce an order or judgment of a court.  At the time of writing, there are no examples of the English courts enforcing awards which were set aside by the courts at the place of arbitration.

Under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act, the court’s permission is required for an international arbitral award to be enforced in the UK.  Once the court has given permission, judgment may be entered in terms of the arbitral award and enforced in the same manner as a court judgment or order.  Permission will not be granted by the court if the party against whom enforcement is sought can show that (a) the tribunal lacked substantive jurisdiction and (b) the right to raise such an objection has not been lost.

The length of arbitral proceedings can vary greatly.  If the parties have a relatively straightforward dispute, cooperate, and adopt a fast-track procedure, arbitration can be concluded within months or even weeks.  In a substantial international arbitration involving complex facts, many witnesses and experts and post-hearing briefs, the arbitration could take many years.  A reasonably substantial international arbitration will likely take between one and two years.

There are two alternative procedures that can be followed in order to enforce an award.  The first is to seek leave of the court for permission to enforce.  The second is to begin an action on the award, seeking the same relief from the court as set out in the tribunal’s award.  Enforcement of an award made in the jurisdiction may be opposed by challenging the award.  The court may also, however, refuse to enforce an award that is unclear, does not specify an amount, or offends public policy.  Enforcement of a foreign award may be opposed on any of the limited grounds set out in the New York Convention.  A stay may be granted for a limited time pending a challenge to the order for enforcement.  The court will consider the likelihood of success and whether enforcement of the award will be made more or less difficult as a result of the stay.  Conditions that might be imposed on granting the stay include such matters as paying a sum into court.  Where multiple awards are to be rendered, the court may give permission for the tribunal to continue hearing other matters, especially where there may be a long delay between awards.

Most awards are complied with voluntarily.  If the party against whom the award was made fails to comply, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court.  The length of time it takes to enforce an award which complies with the requirements of the New York Convention will depend on whether there are complex objections to enforcement which require the court to investigate the facts of the case.  If a case raises complex issues of public importance the case could be appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court.  This process could take around two years.  If no complex objections are raised, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court using a summary procedure that is fast and efficient.  There are time limits relating to the enforcement of the award.  Failure to comply with an award is treated as a breach of the arbitration agreement.  An action on the award must be brought within six years of the failure to comply with the award or 12 years if the arbitration agreement was made under seal.  If the award does not specify a time for compliance, a court will imply a term of reasonableness.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The UK has strong bankruptcy protections going back to the Bankruptcy Act of 1542.  Today, both individual bankruptcy and corporate insolvency are regulated in the UK primarily by the Insolvency Act 1986 and the Insolvency Rules 1986, regulated through determinations in UK courts.  The World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranks the UK 14 out of 190 for ease of resolving insolvency.

Regarding individual bankruptcy law, the court will oblige a bankrupt individual to sell assets to pay dividends to creditors.  A bankrupt person must inform future creditors about the bankrupt status and may not act as the director of a company during the period of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in the UK, and the Enterprise Act of 2002 dictates that for England and Wales bankruptcy will not normally last longer than 12 months.  At the end of the bankrupt period, the individual is normally no longer held liable for bankruptcy debts unless the individual is determined to be culpable for his or her own insolvency, in which case the bankruptcy period can last up to 15 years.

For corporations declaring insolvency, UK insolvency law seeks to distribute losses equitably between creditors, employees, the community, and other stakeholders in an effort to rescue the company.  Liability is limited to the amount of the investment.  If a company cannot be rescued, it is liquidated and assets are sold to pay debts to creditors, including foreign investors.  In March 2020, the UK government announced it would introduce legislation to change existing insolvency laws in response to COVID-19.  The new measures seek to enable companies undergoing a rescue or restructuring process to continue trading and help them avoid insolvency.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The UK has robust real property laws stemming from legislation including the Law of Property Act 1925, the Settled Land Act 1925, the Land Charges Act 1972, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, and the Land Registration Act 2002.

Interests in property are well enforced, and mortgages and liens have been recorded reliably since the Land Registry Act of 1862.  The Land Registry is the government database where all land ownership and transaction data are held for England and Wales, and it is reliably accessible online, here: https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry.  Scotland has its own Registers of Scotland, while Northern Ireland operates land registration through the Land and Property Services.

Long-term physical presence on non-residential property without permission is not typically considered a crime in the UK.  Police take action if squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in a property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The UK legal system provides a high level of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, and enforcement mechanisms are comparable to those available in the United States.  The UK is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  The UK is also a member of the following major intellectual property protection agreements: the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.  The UK has signed and, through implementing various EU Directives, enshrined into UK law the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), known as the internet treaties.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official UK government body responsible forIPR, including patents, designs, trademarks, and copyright.  The IPO web site contains comprehensive information on UK law and practice in these areas.  https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/intellectual-property-office 

According to the Intellectual Property Crime Report for 2019/20, imports of counterfeit and pirated goods to the UK accounted for as much as £13.6 billion ($18.8 billion) in 2016 – the equivalent of three percent of UK imports in genuine goods.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) 2020 Notorious Markets Report includes amazon.co.uk, based in the UK, due to high levels of counterfeit goods on the platform, but the report also notes the UK has blocking orders in place for a number of torrent and infringing websites.  The 2020 report further details the “innovative approaches to disrupting ad-backed funding of pirate sites” taken by the London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) and IPO.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The City of London houses one of the largest and most comprehensive financial centers globally.  London offers all forms of financial services:  commercial banking, investment banking, insurance, venture capital, private equity, stock and currency brokers, fund managers, commodity dealers, accounting and legal services, as well as electronic clearing and settlement systems and bank payments systems.  London is highly regarded by investors because of its solid regulatory, legal, and tax environments, a supportive market infrastructure, and a dynamic, highly skilled workforce.

The UK government is generally hospitable to foreign portfolio investment.  Government policies are intended to facilitate the free flow of capital and to support the flow of resources in product and services markets.  Foreign investors are able to obtain credit in local markets at normal market terms, and a wide range of credit instruments are available.  The principles underlying legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent, and  are consistent with international standards.  In all cases, regulations have been published and are applied on a non-discriminatory basis by the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).

The London Stock Exchange is one of the most active equity markets in the world.  London’s markets have the advantage of bridging the gap between the day’s trading in the Asian markets and the opening of the U.S. market.  This bridge effect is also evidenced by the fact that many Russian and Central European companies have used London stock exchanges to tap global capital markets.

The Alternative Investment Market (AIM), established in 1995 as a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange, is specifically designed for smaller, rapidly expanding companies.  The AIM has a more flexible regulatory system than the main market and has no minimum market capitalization requirements.  Since its launch, the AIM has raised more than £68 billion ($95 billion) for more than 3,000 companies.

Money and Banking System

The UK banking sector is the largest in Europe and represents the continent’s deepest capital pool.  More than 150 financial services firms from the EU are based in the UK.  The financial and related professional services industry contributed approximately 10 percent of UK economic output in 2020, employed approximately 2.3 million people, and contributed the most to UK tax receipts of any sector.  The long-term impact of Brexit on the financial services industry is uncertain at this time.  Some firms have already moved limited numbers of jobs outside the UK in order to service EU-based clients, but the UK is anticipated to remain a top financial hub.

The Bank of England serves as the central bank of the UK.  According to its guidelines, foreign banking institutions are legally permitted to establish operations in the UK as subsidiaries or branches.  Responsibilities for the prudential supervision of a foreign branch are split between the parent’s home state supervisors and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).  The PRA, however, expects the whole firm to meet the PRA’s threshold conditions.  The PRA expects new foreign branches to focus on wholesale and corporate banking and to do so at a level that is not critical to the UK economy.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the conduct regulator for all banks operating in the United Kingdom.  For foreign branches the FCA’s Threshold Conditions and conduct of business rules apply, including areas such as anti-money laundering.  Eligible deposits placed in foreign branches may be covered by the UK deposit guarantee program and therefore foreign branches may be subject to regulations concerning UK depositor protection.

There are no legal restrictions that prohibit foreign residents from opening a business bank account; setting up a business bank account as a non-resident is in principle straightforward.   In practice, however, most banks will not accept applications from overseas due to fraud concerns and the additional administration costs.  To open a personal bank account, an individual must at minimum present an internationally recognized proof of identification and prove residency in the UK.  This can present a problem for incoming FDI and American expatriates.  Unless the business or the individual can prove UK residency, they will have limited banking options.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The pound sterling is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.  Exchange controls restricting the transfer of funds associated with an investment into or out of the UK are not exercised.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The United Kingdom does not maintain a national wealth fund.  Although there have at time been calls to turn The Crown Estate – created in 1760 by Parliament as a means of funding the British monarchy – into a wealth fund, there are no current plans to do so.  Moreover, with assets of just under $20 billion, The Crown Estate would be small in relation to other national funds.

9. Corruption

Although isolated instances of bribery and corruption have occurred in the UK, U.S. investors have not identified corruption of public officials as a challenge in doing business in the UK.

The Bribery Act 2010 amended and reformed UK criminal law and provided a modern legal framework to combat bribery in the UK and internationally.  The scope of the law is extra-territorial.  Under the Act, a relevant person or company can be prosecuted for bribery if the crime is committed abroad.  The Act applies to UK citizens, residents and companies established under UK law.  In addition, non-UK companies can be held liable for a failure to prevent bribery if they do business in the UK.

Section 9 of the Act requires the UK government to publish guidance on procedures that commercial organizations can put in place to prevent bribery on their behalf.  It creates the following offenses: active bribery, described as promising or giving a financial or other advantage, passive bribery, described as agreeing to receive or accepting a financial or other advantage; bribery of foreign public officials; and the failure of commercial organizations to prevent bribery by an associated person (corporate offense).  This corporate criminal offense places a burden of proof on companies to show they have adequate procedures  in place to prevent bribery (http://www.transparency.org.uk/our-work/business-integrity/bribery-act/adequate-procedures-guidance/).  To avoid corporate liability for bribery, companies must make sure that they have strong, up-to-date and effective anti-bribery policies and systems.  It is a corporate criminal offense to fail to prevent bribery by an associated person.  The briber must be “associated” with the commercial organization, a term which will apply to, amongst others, the organization’s agents, employees, and subsidiaries.  A foreign corporation which “carries on a business, or part of a business” in the UK may therefore be guilty of the UK offense even if, for example, the relevant acts were performed by the corporation’s agent outside the UK.  The Act does not extend to political parties and it is unclear whether it extends to family members of public officials.

The UK formally ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 1998 and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2006.

Resources to Report Corruption

UK law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government routinely implements these laws effectively.  The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is an independent government department, operating under the superintendence of the Attorney General with jurisdiction in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  It investigates and prosecutes those who commit serious or complex fraud, bribery, and corruption, and pursues them and others for the proceeds of their crime.

All allegations of bribery of foreign public officials by British nationals or companies incorporated in the United Kingdom—even in relation to conduct that occurred overseas—should be reported to the SFO for possible investigation.  When the SFO receives a report of possible corruption, its intelligence team makes an assessment and decides if the matter is best dealt with by the SFO itself or passed to a law enforcement partner organization, such as the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police (OACU) or the International Corruption Unit of the National Crime Agency.  Allegations can be reported in confidence using the SFO’s secure online reporting form: https://www.sfo.gov.uk/contact-us/reporting-serious-fraud-bribery-corruption/.

Details can also be sent to the SFO in writing:

SFO Confidential
Serious Fraud Office
2-4 Cockspur Street
London, SW1Y 5BS
United Kingdom

10. Political and Security Environment

The UK is politically stable but continues to be a target for both domestic and global terrorist groups.  Terrorist incidents in the UK have significantly decreased in frequency and severity since 2017, which saw five terrorist attacks that caused 36 deaths.  In 2019, the UK suffered one terrorist attack resulting in three deaths (including the attacker), and another two attacks in early 2020 caused serious injuries and resulted in the death of one attacker.  In November 2019, the UK lowered the terrorism threat level to substantial, meaning the risk of an attack was reduced from “highly likely” to “likely.”  UK officials categorize Islamist terrorism as the greatest threat to national security, though officials identify a rising threat from racially or ethnically motivated extremists, which they refer to as “extreme right-wing” terrorism.  Since March 2017, police and security services have disrupted 19 Islamist and seven extreme right-wing plots.

Environmental advocacy groups in the UK have been involved with numerous protests against a variety of business activities, including: airport expansion, bypass roads, offshore structures, wind farms, civilian nuclear power plants, and petrochemical facilities.  These protests tend not to be violent but can be disruptive, with the aim of obtaining maximum media exposure.

Brexit has waned as a source of political instability.  Nonetheless, the June 2016 EU referendum campaign was characterized by significant polarization and widely varying perspectives across the country.  Differing views about the future UK-EU relationship continue to polarize political opinion across the UK.  Scottish political leaders have indicated that the UK leaving the EU may provide justification to pursue another Referendum on Scotland leaving the UK.  Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement has contributed to heightened political and sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.

The UK formally departed the bloc on January 31, 2020, following the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and completed its transition out of the EU on December 31, 2020.

The Conservative Party, traditionally the UK’s pro-business party, was, until the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on implementing Brexit, a process many international businesses opposed because they anticipated it would make trade in goods, services, workers, and capital with the UK’s largest trading partners more challenging and costly, at least in the short term.  The Conservative Party-led government implemented a Digital Services Tax (DST), a two percent tax on the revenues of predominantly American search engines, social media services and online marketplaces which derive value from UK users, and has additionally legislated for an increase in the Corporation Tax rate from 19 percent to 25 percent.

The Labour Party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is widely acknowledged to be more economically centrist than his predecessor.  In his first major economic speech following his election as Labour Party leader, Starmer declared his intention to repair and improve the party’s relationship with the business community, but has proposed few policies beyond the focus of the COVID-19 crisis.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The UK’s labor force comprises more than 41 million workers.  The employment rate between November 2020 and January 2021 was 75 percent, with 28.3 million workers employed.  There were 1.7 million workers unemployed in January 2021, or five percent, one percent higher than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most serious issue facing British employers is a skills gap derived from a high-skill, high-tech economy outpacing the educational system’s ability to deliver work-ready graduates.  The government has placed a strong emphasis on improving the British educational system in terms of greater emphasis on science, research and development, and entrepreneurial skills, but any positive reforms will necessarily deliver benefits with a lag.

As of 2018, approximately 23.5 percent of UK workers belonged to a union.  Public-sector workers represented a much higher share of union members at 52.5 percent, while the private sector was 13.2 percent.  Manufacturing, transport, and distribution trades are highly unionized. Unionization of the workforce in the UK is prohibited only in the armed forces, public-sector security services, and police forces.  Union membership has risen slightly in recent years, despite a previous downward trend.

In the 2019, 234,000 working days were lost from 35 official labor disputes.  The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British nation-wide labor federation, encourages union-management cooperation.

On April 1, 2021, the UK raised the minimum wage to £8.91 ($12.33) an hour for workers ages 25 and over.  The increased wage impacts about 2 million workers across Britain.

The 2006 Employment Equality (Age) Regulations make it unlawful to discriminate against workers, employees, job seekers, and trainees because of age, whether young or old.  The regulations cover recruitment, terms and conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals, and training.  They do not cover the provision of goods and services.  The regulations also removed the upper age limits on unfair dismissal and redundancy.  It sets a national default retirement age of 65, making compulsory retirement below that age unlawful unless objectively justified.  Employees have the right to request to work beyond retirement age and the employer has a duty to consider such requests.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD) 2018 $2,710,000 2019 $2,829,000 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/united-kingdom
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2019 $527,000 2019 $851,414 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2019 $524,000 2019 $505,088 https://www.selectusa.gov/
country-fact-sheet/United-Kingdom 
Total inbound stock of FDI as percent host GDP 2018 25.3% 2019 11.3% Calculated using respective GDP and FDI data
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI 
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy 
 From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (USD, Billions)
Inward Direct Investment 2019 Outward Direct Investment 2018
Total Inward 2,155.9 Proportion Total Outward 2,060 Proportion
USA 527.8 24.5% USA 525.2 25.3%
Netherlands 231.3 10.7% Netherlands 215.4 10.4%
Luxembourg 185.9 8.6% Luxembourg 132.6 6.4%
Belgium 161 7.5% France 104 5.0%
Japan 125.2 7.4% Spain 104 5.0%
 Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 100% All Countries 100% All Countries 100%
United States 1,077,839 32% United States 549,159 30% United States 528,680 34%
Ireland 422,939 13% Ireland 340,790 19% France 131,552 8%
Luxembourg 184,953 6% Luxembourg 144,231 8% Germany 101,282 7%
France 171,948 5% Japan 81,081 5% Int’l Orgs 96,055 6%
Germany 146,051 4% China, P.R Mainland 49,373 3% Ireland 82,148 5%

Investment Climate Statements
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future