The United Kingdom (UK) actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI). The UK imposes few impediments to foreign ownership and throughout the past decade, has been Europe’s top recipient of FDI. The UK government provides comprehensive statistics on FDI in its annual inward investment report: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/department-for-international-trade-inward-investment-results-2017-to-2018.
On June 23, 2016, the UK held a referendum on its continued membership in the European Union (EU) resulting in a decision to leave the EU. On March 29, 2017, the UK initiated the formal process of withdrawing from the EU, widely known as “Brexit”. Under EU rules, the UK and the EU had two years to negotiate the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. At the time of writing, the deadline for the UK’s departure has been extended until October 31, 2019. The terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU are still under negotiation, but it is widely expected that trade between the UK and the EU will be more difficult and expensive in the short-term. At present, the UK enjoys relatively unfettered access to the markets of the other 27 EU member-states, equating to roughly 450 million consumers and USD 15 trillion worth of GDP. Prolonged uncertainty surrounding the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU and the terms of the future UK-EU relationship may continue to detrimentally impact the overall attractiveness of the UK as an investment destination for U.S. companies.
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 British pound 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 do not exist.
UK legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international standards. The UK legal system provides a high level of protection. 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 United States and UK have enjoyed a “Commerce and Navigation” Treaty since 1815 which guarantees national treatment of U.S. investors. A Bilateral Tax Treaty specifically protects U.S. and UK investors from double taxation. There are early signs of increased protectionism against foreign investment, however. HM Treasury announced a unilateral digital services tax which is due to come into force in April 2020, targeting digital firms, such as social media platforms, search engines, and marketplaces, with a 2 percent tax on revenue generated in the UK.
The United States is the largest source of FDI into the UK. Many U.S. companies have operations in the UK, including all top 100 of the Fortune 500 firms. The UK also hosts more than half of the European, Middle Eastern and African corporate headquarters of American-owned firms. For several generations, U.S. firms have been attracted to the UK both for the domestic market and as a beachhead for the EU Single Market.
Companies operating in the UK must comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The UK has incorporated the requirements of the GDPR into UK domestic law though the Data Protection Act of 2018. After it leaves the EU, the UK will need to apply for an adequacy decision from the EU in order to maintain current data flows
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||11 of 180||www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”||2018||9 of 189||www.doingbusiness.org/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||5 of 127||www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2018-report|
|U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions)||2017||$747,600||www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$40,530||data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The UK encourages foreign direct investment. With a few exceptions, the government does not discriminate between nationals and foreign individuals in the formation and operation of private companies. The Department for International Trade actively promotes direct foreign 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 British 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 national security-sensitive companies, 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 1975, but it has never done so in practice. Investments in energy and power generation require environmental approvals. Certain service activities (like radio and land-based television broadcasting) are subject to licensing. The Enterprise Act of 2002 extends powers to the UK government to intervene in mergers and acquisitions which might give rise to national security implications and into which they would not otherwise be able to intervene.
The UK requires that at least one director of any company registered in the UK must be ordinarily resident in the UK. The UK, as a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), subscribes to the OECD Codes of Liberalization, committed to minimizing limits on foreign investment.
While the UK does not have a formalized investment review body to assess the suitability of foreign investments in national security sensitive areas, an ad hoc investment review process does exist and is led by the relevant government ministry with regulatory responsibility for the sector in question (e.g., the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy who would have responsibility for review of investments in the energy sector). To date, U.S. companies have not been the target of these ad hoc reviews. The UK is currently considering revisions to its national security review process related to foreign direct investment. ( ).
The Government has proposed to amend the turnover threshold and share of supply tests within the Enterprise Act 2002. This is to allow the Government to examine and potentially intervene in mergers that currently fall outside the thresholds in two areas: (i) the dual use and military use sector, (ii) parts of the advanced technology sector. For these areas only, the Government proposes to lower the turnover threshold from £70 million (USD 92 million) to £1 million (USD 1.3 million) and remove the current requirement for the merger to increase the share of supply to or over 25 percent.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Economist’s “Intelligence Unit”, World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2018”, and the OECD’s “Economic Forecast Summary (May 2019) have current investment policy reports for the United Kingdom:
The UK government seeks to facilitate investment by offering overseas companies access to widely integrated markets. Proactive policies encourage international investment through administrative efficiency in order to promote innovation and achieve sustainable growth. The online business registration process is clearly defined, though some types of company cannot register as an overseas firm in the UK, including partnerships and unincorporated bodies. Registration as an overseas company is only required when it has some degree of physical presence in the UK. After registering a business with the UK government body, named Companies House, overseas firms must register to pay corporation tax within three months. The process of setting up a business in the UK requires as few as thirteen days, compared to the European average of 32 days, which puts the country in first place in Europe and sixth place in the world for ease of establishing a business. As of April 2016, companies have to declare their Persons of Significant Control (PSC’s). This change in 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: . Companies House maintains a free, publicly searchable directory, available at this link: .
The UK offers a welcoming environment to foreign investors, with foreign equity ownership restrictions in only a limited number of sectors covered by the Investing Across Sectors indicators. As in all other EU member countries, foreign equity ownership in the air transportation sector is limited to 49 percent for investors from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). Furthermore, the Industry Act (1975) enables the UK government to prohibit transfer to foreign owners of 30 percent or more of important UK manufacturing businesses, if such a transfer would be contrary to the interests of the country. While these provisions have never been used in practice, they are still included in the Investing Across Sectors indicators, as these strictly measure ownership restrictions defined in the laws.
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 responsibility 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. However, the UK imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands in August 2009 after an inquiry found evidence of corruption and incompetence. Its Premier was removed and its constitution was suspended. The UK restored Home Rule following elections in November 2012.
Many of the territories are now broadly self-sufficient. However, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) 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. The UK also lends to the BOTs as needed, up to a pre-set limit, but assumes no liability for them if they encounter financial difficulty.
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 are already exchanging information with the UK, and began exchanging information with other jurisdictions under the CRS from September 2017.
The OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes has rated Anguilla as “partially compliant” with the internationally agreed tax standard. Although Anguilla sought to upgrade its rating in 2017, it still remains at “partially compliant” as of April 2019. 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 also 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. These arrangements came into effect in June 2017.
Anguilla: Anguilla is a neutral tax jurisdiction. There are 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.
British Virgin Islands: The government of the British Virgin Islands welcomes foreign direct investment and offers a series of 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 transfer of real estate and the transfer of shares in a BVI company owning real estate in the BVI at a rate of 4 percent for belongers 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 USD 150,000, a turnover of less than USD 300,000 and fewer than 7 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 USD 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; however, 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 GBP one million and 26 percent for all amounts in excess of GBP one million. The individual income tax rate is 21 percent for earnings below USD 15,694 (GBP 12,000) and 26 percent above this level.
Gibraltar: The government of Gibraltar encourages foreign investment. 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. Gibraltar is currently a part of the EU and receives EU funding for projects that improve the territory’s economic development.
Montserrat: The government of Montserrat welcomes new private foreign investment. 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 island of St. Helena is open to foreign investment and welcomes expressions of interest from companies wanting to invest. Its government is able to offer tax based incentives which will be 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 safe harbor. Residents exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handcrafts.
The Turks and Caicos Islands: The islands operate an “open arms” investment policy. Through the 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” status, but property purchasers must pay a stamp duty on purchases over USD 25,000. Depending on the island, the stamp duty rate may be up to 6.5 percent for purchases up to USD 250,000, eight percent for purchases USD 250,001 to USD 500,000, and 10 percent for purchases over USD500,000.
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. 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.
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. VAT is not applicable in Jersey as it is not part of the EU VAT tax area.
Guernsey has a zero percent rate of corporate tax. Some 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 who carry on a retail business in the Isle of Man and have taxable income in excess of £500,000 from that business. VAT is applicable in the Isle of Man as it is part of the EU customs territory.
This tax data is current as of April 2019.
The UK is one of the largest outward investors in the world, often protected through Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), which have been concluded with many countries. The UK’s international investment position abroad (outward investment) increased from GBP 1,696.5 billion in 2017 to GBP 1,713.3 billion in 2018. By the end of 2018 the UK’s stock of outward FDI was GBP 1,713 billion, a 52 rise percent since 2002. The main destination for UK outward FDI is the United States, which accounted for approximately 23 percent of UK outward FDI stocks at the end of 2017. Other key destinations include the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Ireland 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 British FDI positions abroad, accounting for 16 of the top 20 destinations for total UK outward FDI. The UK’s international investment position within the Americas was GBP 401.9 billion in 2017. This is the third largest recorded value in the time series since 2006 for the Americas. The United States, at GBP 329.3 billion, continued to be the largest destination for UK international investment positions abroad within the Americas in 2017.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
U.S. exporters and investors generally 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. For accounting standards and audit provisions, firms in the UK currently use the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) set by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and approved by the European Commission. 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, for example Ofcom, Ofwat, Ofgem, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), 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 Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) acts as a single integrated regulator focused on conduct in financial markets. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is a regulatory enforcement mechanism designed to address 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: .
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.
The primary difference between the regulatory environment in the UK and the United States is that so long as the UK is a member of the European Union, it is mandated to comply with and enforce EU regulations and directives. The U.S. government has expressed concerns about the degree of transparency and accountability in the EU regulatory process. The extent to which the UK will deviate from the EU regulatory regime after the UK withdraws from the EU is unknown at this time.
International Regulatory Considerations
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU may result in an extended period of regulatory uncertainty across the economy as the UK determines the extent to which it will 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 its WTO obligations.
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 center for dispute resolution with over 10,000 cases filed per annum.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
There is no specific statute governing or restricting 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 ad hoc national security 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. The UK is currently reviewing its procedures and considering new rules for restricting foreign investment in those sectors of the economy with higher risk for adversely impacting national security.
The practice of multinational enterprises structuring operations to minimize taxes, referred to as ‘tax avoidance’ in the UK, has been a controversial political issue and subject to investigations by the UK Parliament and EU authorities. Both foreign and UK firms remain subject to the same tax laws. Foreign investors may have access to certain EU and UK regional grants and incentives designed to attract industry to areas of high unemployment.
In 2015, the UK flattened its structure of corporate tax rates. The UK currently taxes corporations at a flat rate of 19 percent, with marginal tax relief granted for companies with profits falling between USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000) and 1.96 million (GBP 1.5 million). 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. A special rate of 20 percent is given to unit trusts and open-ended investment companies. 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 USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000), and 30 percent for profits over USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000).
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 USD 39,141 (GBP 30,000). 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 USD 78,282 (GBP 60,000).
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. The Scottish Government has been opposed to increasing tax rates, mainly because any financial advantage gained by an increase in taxes would be offset by the need to establish a new administrative body to manage the new revenue.
For guidance on laws and procedures relevant to foreign investment in the UK, follow the link below:
All USD conversions based on spot exchange rate as of April 08, 2019.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
UK competition law contains both British and European elements. The Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002 are the most important statutes for cases with a purely national dimension. However, if the impact of a business’ conduct crosses borders, EU law applies. Section 60 of the Competition Act 1998 provides that UK rules are to be applied in line with European jurisprudence.
The Companies Act of 1985, administered by the Department for Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Skills (BEIS), governs ownership and operation of private companies. The Companies Act of 2006 replaced the 1985 Act, simplifying existing rules.
BEIS uses a transparent code of practice that is fully in accord with EU merger control regulations, in evaluating bids and mergers for possible referral to the Competition Commission. The Competition Act of 1998 strengthened competition law and enhanced the enforcement powers of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Prohibitions under the act relate to competition-restricting agreements and abusive behavior by entities in dominant market positions. The Enterprise Act of 2002 established the OFT as an independent statutory body with a Board, and gives it a greater role in ensuring that markets work well. Also, in accordance with EU law, if deemed in the public interest, transactions in the media or that raise national security concerns may be reviewed by the Secretary of State of BEIS.
In 2014, the Competition Commission and the OFT merged into a single Non Departmental Government Body: the Competition and Markets Authority. This new body is responsible for investigating mergers that could restrict competition, conducting market studies and investigations where there may be competition problems, investigating breaches of EU and UK prohibitions, initiating criminal proceedings against individuals who commit cartel offenses, and enforcing consumer protection legislation. This body is unlikely to alter UK competition policy.
UK competition law has three main tasks: 1) prohibiting agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business entities (this includes in particular the repression of cartels); 2) banning 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) supervising the mergers and acquisitions of large corporations, including some joint ventures. Transactions that are considered to threaten the competitive process can be prohibited altogether, or approved subject to “remedies” 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.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is the primary regulatory body for competition law enforcement. It was created through the merger of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) with the Competition Commission through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. Competition law is closely connected with law on deregulation of access to markets, state aids and subsidies, the privatization of state owned assets, and the establishment of independent sector regulators.
Although the OFT and the Competition Commission have general review authority, specific “watchdog” agencies such as Ofgem (the electricity and gas markets regulation authority), Ofcom (the communications regulation authority), and Ofwat (the water services regulation authority) are also charged with seeing how the operation of those specific markets work.
Expropriation and Compensation
The OECD, of which the UK is a member, states 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. A number of key UK banks became subject to full or part-nationalization from early 2008 as a response to the global financial crisis and banking collapse. The first bank to become nationalized was Northern Rock in February 2008, and by March 2009 the UK Treasury had taken a 65 percent stake in Lloyds Banking Group and a 68 percent stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). In the event of nationalization, the British government follows customary international law by providing prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.
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 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
The UK is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and 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 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.
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. However, the court also may 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. UK courts have a good record of enforcing arbitral awards, which they will enforce in the same way that they would 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.
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.
The UK has strong bankruptcy protections going back to the Bankruptcy Act of 1542, and in modern days 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 report Ranks the UK 14/189 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 fifteen years.
For corporations declaring insolvency, UK insolvency law seeks to equitably distribute losses 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.