News & Insights

What can the UK offer international business?

Ian Machray considers why the UK is still an ideal destination for international business, despite having opted to leave the European Union.

The UK has a lot to offer when it comes to attracting inward investment from international business. One of the prevailing reasons that the UK is an attractive destination is that London is a leading global financial centre, well regulated and offers a reliable location to list and raise finance.

We may be about to exit the European Union (“Brexit”) but despite this the UK will remain an attractive option for foreign direct investment; just look at GlaxoSmithKleine who invested £275m into its UK manufacturing sites following the vote for Brexit.

A free-market Britain is going to work harder to make itself attractive to foreign direct investment, with greatly improved infrastructure; both in terms of transportation and digitally. Without the constraints imposed by the “EU transfer union”, which sees financial resources transferred from the successful member states to the struggling member states, the UK will have more capacity to make such improvements. If you want to see evidence of this, look no further than the post-Brexit announcement that the Government has agreed to the third runway at Heathrow going ahead.

Moving on from the wider ramifications of Brexit, one of the UK’s greatest attractions is that the UK tax system offers generous tax incentives to business. Set out below are the main general advantages, it is not a finite list and does not include the specialist reliefs and allowances available to different industry sectors.

  • The UK corporation tax rate is one of the lowest of all the developed countries; it currently stands at 20% and will be dropping to 17% in 2020 (almost half that of the US).
  • Interest incurred on funding costs for share acquisitions is tax deductible.
  • A UK company can pay dividends to an offshore shareholder without making a tax deduction.
  • Most offshore subsidiaries of UK companies can pay dividends up to the UK parent without the UK parent company being subject to tax on those dividends (the Foreign Dividend Exemption).
  • The UK has extensive double tax treaties, with wide networks across Asia and Africa as well as a treaty with China that reduces withholding tax on dividends from a Chinese subsidiary to 5%.
  • UK companies can elect to treat all the profits and losses of trading by their overseas branches as being taxable in the relevant overseas jurisdiction only as opposed to being taxable in the UK (the Foreign Branch Exemption).
  • The UK offers an exemption from capital gains on the disposal of most shareholdings in trading companies where the investing company holds 10% or more of the ordinary shares (the Substantial Shareholding Exemption).
  • There are controlled foreign company (CFC) rules that apply only to profits that have been artificially diverted from the UK as opposed to CFC rules that operate indiscriminately against profits arising to business in a lower tax jurisdiction.
  • There are generous research and development tax credits of potentially up to 150% relief on qualifying expenditure.
  • The UK offers a lower 10% rate of corporation tax for profits realised from the exploitation of qualifying intellectual property (the Patent Box regime).
  • There are extensive tax reliefs made available to investors subscribing for ordinary shares in UK trading companies (or in overseas companies with UK branches) which potentially exempt any gain made on the investment from capital taxes and, this is in addition to providing income tax relief at 30% or 50% on the amount invested at the outset.

The tax advantages are plentiful. But don’t just take my word for it:

Annual investment figures from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) for 2013 to 2014 show that the UK attracted 14% more projects than last year (2012 to 2013). This is supported by external independent sources, such as EY, who have confirmed that the UK remains the number 1 destination in Europe for foreign direct investment projects”. (taken from the Gov.UK website).

The Trade Minister, Lord Livingston, is quoted in the same article as saying: “It shows that our strategy to attract investors to the UK by creating one of the most business-friendly environments in the world is the right one and it is proof that foreign investors have confidence in the UK as the best place to do business”.

If you would like to discuss any legal queries you have as regards inward investment into the UK do not hesitate to contact Ian Machray.