The MP who represents French expats in Britain poured scorn on the notion there was about to be a mass exodus of tax exiles across the channel after French President François Hollande promised a 75 percent tax rate on top earners.
French nationals wanting to avoid hefty tax rises will not be upping sticks and heading to the UK in droves, according to France’s MP for expats living in Britain.
Axelle Lemaire, France’s National Assembly MP for Northern Europe including the UK, has poured cold water on the idea that thousands of France’s high earners will flock to Britain to avoid their home country’s top tax rates.
Her comments come on the day Francois Hollande made his first visit the the UK as French President, where he met with both the Queen and the British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Much was made in the build up to the trip about the expected tense relations between the two heads of state, sparked largely by Cameron’s recent promise to roll out the red carpet for high earners wishing to leave France for sunnier financial climes.
Canadian born Lemaire, 37, said only a small minority cross the channel for tax reasons.
“Before the election I kept repeating that the preconception that people move for tax reasons does not reflect the reality of the majority of French people who live in UK,” Lemaire told FRANCE 24.
“Most of the French people who come to Britain come for professional reasons, because they find a job or for personal reasons, because their partner lives here."
“I haven’t noticed a big move to London since Francois Hollande was elected”
Lemaire, elected to the National Assembly in parliamentary elections last month, was among around 1,000 members of the French community who met with Hollande on Tuesday morning.
She said there are other factors that might dissuade many of those top earners from moving to Britain.
“People want good hospitals and good schools for their children,” she said. “The level of taxation is one thing, but if they agree with the shared common values of France then I don’t see why they would evade their tax duties.”
“I haven’t noticed a big move to London since Francois Hollande was elected," she said. "Those who move to avoid tax are in the minority.”
Cameron’s "red carpet" comments came after the French president sent blood pressure rising among the country’s most wealthy with his proposal to introduce a 75 percent top tax rate.
But Lemaire, whose consituency stretches from Britain to Scandinavia, told FRANCE 24 tax policies must be decided upon merit and not fear.
“We should not be deciding on policies becasue of the threat that many people will leave the country to avoid paying their taxes," she said.
Hollande’s decision to raise funds by taxing the weathly has contrasted starkly with the Cameron government’s recent decision to abolish the UK's top rate of tax whilst it continues to impliment strict austerity measures.
The 75% levy is not the only area of tax policy that set the two leaders on a collision course before Tuesday’s talks.
Hollande wants to introduce a charge on financial transactions, sending shockwaves around the City of London.
“Francois Hollande was elected on a mandate from the French people to introduce the financial transactions tax, but he respects the fact the British government does not want to do the same,” Lemaire told France 24.
“Differences of opinion”
Hollande’s government also worried Downing Street with its plan to almost double the tax on non-residents who own second homes in France -- of which there are around 200,000 Britons.
But, as Lemaire rightly points out, this tax would also impact on her French constituents who still own second homes back in France.
“Hollande has said the burden of debt will have to be shared by everyone, and that includes those who own property in France,” Lemaire said.
Hollande and Cameron were eager to present a united front at a joint press conference today, with the British PM insisting he would forge a “strong relationship” with his French counterpart.
But with a clear divergence of opinion on certain issues, their blossoming bond will no doubt be tested in the coming months.
“There are differences of opinion but that is why it is important for Mr Hollande to have a strong personal relationship with Mr Cameron.They will need to build up that rapport and be able to talk one-to-one, whatever the circumstances,” Le Maire pointed out. “They know it is in both their interests to cooperate. They seemed to get along well today."