2020年12月31日,英国与欧盟达成《欧盟-英国贸易与合作协定》(以下简称“协定”),标志着英国结束了脱离欧盟的过渡期。“协定”从今年5月起正式实施,历时4年多的英国“脱欧”之路就此画上句号。

“分手”后的英国有失有得,这在律所业务上也有所体现。根据国民西敏寺银行的一篇文章,商事律所在脱欧期业务明显上涨,许多律所也借机提高了收费。

同样的趋势也体现在了中国律师事务所驻英分所的业务上:今年4月,京师律师事务所在伦敦注册成立办公室,其首席代表、合伙人尤勇律师指出,英国脱欧后,英国公民和欧盟成员国公民均面临着企业迁移和财产转移,大量维持合同或解除合同等层面的法律问题涌现,法律咨询需求大幅增加。

英国脱欧同时带来了不小的挑战。成立于2012年的中伦律师事务所伦敦办公室至今已在英国执业近十年,中伦驻伦敦合伙人薛海滨律师告诉ALB:“和其他英国企业一样,在英国脱欧后,中伦伦敦办公室同样失去了在欧盟共同市场中的同等待遇地位。在律所策略方面,最明显的变化是无法以英国律师身份直接到欧盟市场提供相关的法律服务。”

不过,尤勇律师也指出,英国脱欧后,欧盟成员国的公民在工作、留学机会方面不再享有特殊的优势,这为中国企业进入英国市场、中国留学生进入英国院校提供了更加平等的舞台和更多的机会,而与之相关的法律需求也不断涌现。

“英国脱欧后,部分金融企业将从英国撤到法国、德国等欧盟国家,这确实给英国经济蒙上不小阴影,但长远看,英国通过坚定脱离欧盟,获得了轻装上阵的发展机会。英国一向以法律制度健全和金融制度发达闻名于世,脱欧后的英国能引入来自世界各地的新投资和新机遇。为了全方位满足京师国内客户不断增加的赴英投资需求,京师布局英国法律市场也势在必行。”尤律师说。

给中国投资者的建议

脱欧后,英国与欧洲成为相对独立的两个市场。薛海滨律师指出,英国与欧盟之间的人员、产品、服务与资本的自由流动已经不复存在,英国已经不再是欧盟市场的“桥头堡”。因此,他提醒已经投资和准备投资英国的中资企业需要将英国与欧盟市场分开进行考虑。

此外,据中伦薛律师确认英国首部《国家安全与投资法》(National Security and Investment Act 2021)已于今年4月29日通过皇家授权,并将于今年晚期实施。需要注意的是该部国家安全审查法具有逆向追溯力,对于发生在2020年11月12日及之后的任何交易,均具有追溯审查权。该法律理论上可适用发生在英国的任何投资交易,同时可以覆盖发生在英国境外,但涉及的英国国家安全的交易。法律中明确对17个行业的投资进行了限制,其中绝大多数行业是中资投资企业在英的投资热点,比如民用核能、通信、数据基础设施、能源、运输、人工智能、自动机器人、 计算机硬件、加密认证、先进材料、量子技术、工程生物以及卫星和空间技术等。对以上行业的投资将需要履行强制申报义务。故薛律师强烈建议目前有意投资英国以上行业的企业,在投资前做好国家安全方面的分析与评估,并届时主动进行申报。

在此背景下,尤律师建议中国投资者收集专业人士的意见、做足功课与准备。她说:“对于目前希望来英国投资的中国投资者,我认为首先应该深入实地考察英国市场。英国与中国在市场环境、法律监管和税务体系等方面存在巨大差异,如果没有进行研究和妥善安排,那么在英国的投资将面临巨大的风险。”

“另一方面,由于英国是一个法律至上的国度,进入该市场的企业会受到英国法律的完善保护,每一个流程都非常透明。只要有专业人士指导,就不容易出现较大的不确定性,加之英国本土人士对于中国传统文化的特殊青睐,中国本土那些质量过硬、兼具一定文化特色的国内企业来英可能会有不错的发展空间。”尤律师补充说。

Chinese law firms in the UK are helping investors navigate the uncertainties of the post-Brexit era

As of Jan. 1 this year, the United Kingdom had severed ties with the European Union, bringing to an end the four-year-long Brexit saga. With rules being rewritten and agreements being drawn up, lawyers have had their hands full explaining the new landscape to their clients; according to a report by NatWest, commercial law firms in the UK have experienced an uptick in demand for advice and many of them have increased their billing. 

This is a trend also witnessed by Chinese law firms that have offices in the country, such as Jingsh Law Firm, which registered its London outpost in April this year. With Brexit causing issues for many UK and European citizens when it comes to their assets and businesses, Jingsh is seeing increased demand for legal services pertaining to enforcement and termination of contracts, says You Yong, chief representative and partner at the firm’s London office.

For Chinese nationals working in the UK, Brexit has been a mixed bag so far. Xue Haibin, a partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm’s London office, which was set up in 2012, says that one of the biggest changes witnessed so far is that the firm has lost the ability to interact with the European Common Market, and thus cannot provide legal services directly to European clients.

However, as You points out, now that European citizens do not get preferential treatment in the UK when it comes to working and studying, Chinese students, professionals and investors are more in demand. And law firms are playing a more important role supporting them. ““Following the Brexit, some financial enterprises will withdraw from the UK and return to European countries, which indeed casts a cloud over UK’s economy to some extent. However, running with a lighter pack means more flexible and independent development for the UK in the long term. Known for its well-founded legal and financial system, the UK in post-Brexit era will introduce new investment and opportunities.” says You, who adds that Jingsh’s domestic clients are showing increased interest in investing in the UK, making the firm’s presence in London imperative.

ADVICE TO CHINESE INVESTORS

With Brexit creating a gap between the UK and Europe, Xue warns Chinese investors to always keep in mind that these two are very separated markets now.

“The UK is no longer the gateway for Chinese companies to European markets as the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between them has come to an end,” he says.

Furthermore, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released the National Security and Investment Bill 2020 last November, signalling stricter scrutiny for foreign direct investment. Amid this, You says that law firms play an important part in preparing Chinese investors for potential risks.

“I believe that first, it is necessary for Chinese investors to conduct thorough field study on UK market. There exist huge differences between China and the UK in terms of market environment, legal regulatory and tax system. Without knowledge and understanding, the investors may face great danger. Secondly, the UK is a country that deems law as the supreme, so foreign direct investment in the UK is legally protected. Every process is transparent. With guide from professionals, uncertainty that Chinese investors face will be greatly reduced. In addition, the UK favours Chinese culture, so there may be a promising development space for Chinese companies with excellent quality and cultural characteristics,” says You.

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.