Chairman of Maritime London, Lord Mountevans, along with 10 London shipping reps were in town for the 4th Greek-British Shipping Forum hosted by the ‘pro shipping’ British Ambassador in Greece, Kate Smith, and attended by some 100 Greek shipowners and representatives of enterprises in the sector.
Benefits of continuing to foster the strong long-standing relationship between Britain and Greece, in particular their shipping industries, was the thrust of the message. Indeed, this was emphasised by the Ministers of shipping of each country, both of whom have had Brexit very much in mind.
In a recorded message, John Hayes, UK's minister of State for Transport, said, "working with Greece will help keep the UK a major maritime nation and trading partner". Hayes, said the fundamentals of London remain strong. Brexit does not mean the withdrawal of the UK from Europe, but presents the opportunity for the country to work outside, as the "vote showed the people wanted to be more independent".
"Traditional ties between our two people will continue," Greece's Shipping and Island Policy minister, Panagiotis Kouroumplis said in reply, adding "this cooperation in the field of shipping can have concrete and beneficial results for both". He said the two countries already cooperate closely in shipping matters, like at IMO, as both believe the transportation of goods should be protected.
Kouroumplis has himself recently been in London promoting the attributes of the Greek shipping cluster should London-based shipping companies look for an alternate home post Brexit. The minister met with IG P&I clubs chairman, Hugo Wynn-Williams, and other P&I executives promoting Piraeus. Some 11 of the 13 IG members already operate offices in Greece but are not licensed insurance companies.
He said the government is trying to make the Greek flag more accessible by eliminating red-tape, before saying "the government wants to ensure the best possible cooperation between the UK and EU". "We have always believed the UK and EU are united. Through cooperation we will be able to solve any problems in shipping".
The UK party in Greece all cited the close relationship between the two maritime countries and the contribution of London-based Greek shipowners to both the UK and Greek economies, stressing prospects for further growth in their financial relations.
London will remain the "best one-stop-shop for business", declared Lord Mountevans, a former shipbroker, mayor of London's 'square mile' and now chairman of Maritime London. "The legal regulatory climate in London is unmatched," he said, continuing "the City is working to make London the most cyber safe place in the world".
Doug Barrow, director of the ambitious UK Ship Register, said the goal is to expand the UK register. "We want to be the choice of quality owners looking for a flag outside their home flag," he said. He said the register "is changing to meet the needs of our customers, but we will not sacrifice quality for growth".
Nevertheless, no clear answers were provided as to what Brexit will mean for foreigners who work in shipping offices or the tax status of shipowners based in Britain. The latter question carries significant weight as it appears foreigners who have completed 15 years in the UK with “non-dom” status (paying a steady annual tax amount) will now be taxed as British citizens, even for incomes earned in the rest of the world.
When questioned by shipowners in the audience, Lord Mountevans agreed "the non-dom tax was an issue" before saying "it is expected to stay as it is", adding, "I would like to see more incentives for shipowners". He also said, as did others, it is too early to know how the general climate will develop and the impact the Brexit process will have as it moves forward.