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Europe Focus March 2019

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UK defers attempt to introduce public ownership registers in Crown Dependencies

The UK government was forced to withdraw the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill after it was ‘hijacked’ by a cross-party amendment that would have required the Crown Dependencies to introduce publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership of companies by 2020.

The Bill, a planning measure designed to enable the UK to adapt to changes in EU financial services legislation in the event of a ‘No-Deal Brexit’, was due to be debated in the House of Commons on 4 March but the legislative amendment was tabled by a group of MPs, which the government expected to lose.

The group, led by former Conservative minister Andrew Mitchell and Labour MP Margaret Hodge, succeeded last year in attaching an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to impose a requirement for “publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership of companies” on British Overseas Territories (BOTs).

As a result the BOTs, which include Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Turks & Caicos Islands, are required to introduce publicly accessible registers of those with significant control over companies by 31 December 2020. This requirement does not currently apply to the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

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P&O Ferries changes flag of UK ships to Cyprus ahead of Brexit

Shipping firm P&O Ferries announced that it had decided to move the registration of the six vessels in its English Channel operating fleet to Cyprus ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union, in part to keep its tax arrangements inside the bloc.

“In advance of Britain leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019 we undertook a review of the flag status of our ships on the English Channel. For operational and accounting reasons, we have concluded that the best course of action is to re-flag all ships to be under the Cyprus flag,” the company said.

On the question why the company chose the Cyprus flag in particular, he added: “The Cyprus flag is on the `white list` of both the Paris and Tokyo Memoranda of Understanding, resulting in fewer inspections and delays, and will result in significantly more favourable tonnage tax arrangements as the ships will be flagged in an EU member state.”

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UK consults on non-UK residents stamp duty surcharge

The UK government launched a consultation on the design of a 1% Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) surcharge on non-UK residents purchasing residential property in England and Northern Ireland. This would raise the top rate of SDLT to 16%.

The government said it was committed to helping more people into home ownership but there was evidence that purchases of property by non-UK residents were pushing up house prices for UK residents.

The non-UK resident surcharge will apply to purchases of residential property made by non-UK resident individuals and certain non-natural persons. The surcharge will apply to freehold and leasehold purchases of residential property and will be at a rate of 1% on top of all existing SDLT rates, including the rates applicable to the rental element of leasehold property.

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UK immigration programmes and the taxation of non-UK domiciled individuals

The UK government has brought forward plans for two new visa routes to be introduced for skilled businesspeople in a bid to attract more international talent in advance of Brexit. An announcement on 7 March also included reform of the existing Tier 1 Investor route.

As of 1 August 2019, new applications under the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa will be divided into two categories – ‘Start-up’ and ‘Innovator’. Both will require a higher level of English language ability, as well as both an endorsement and approval from a ‘trusted body’.

The Start-up Visa category is an expanded version of the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category. It is for those who can secure an endorsement for starting a new business for the first time in the UK. There is no requirement for applicants to be graduates and to have secured any initial funding. Successful applicants will be granted two years’ leave and will be able to progress into the Innovator category and to continue developing their businesses in the UK after that time.

The Innovator Visa category is intended for more experienced businesspeople. In addition to an endorsement, applicants will need £50,000 to invest in their business from any legitimate source – a significant reduction from the £200,000 requirement for most applicants under the current Tier 1 Entrepreneur category.

This funding requirement will further be waived for applicants switching from the Start-up category who can demonstrate that they have made significant achievements against their business plans. The category may lead to settlement in the UK.

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