The siege mentality induced by Brexit and exacerbated by Covid-19 has made us fearful of almost everything – returning to work, going to the shops, travelling abroad. It has also made us fearful of almost everyone, especially if they’re not British.
Stumble and the repercussions could be huge. China is hugely important to the UK property sector, not just in terms of the potential impact of the likes of TikTok or Huawei, but also in terms of the dependence of universities on Chinese students and reliance of London’s prime residential sector on Chinese investors.
However, UK-China relations are currently precarious at best. The nations had already fallen out over Hong Kong and alleged human rights abuses against the Uighurs. Then came the Huawei spat, which culminated in the UK government banning it from the UK’s 5G rollout, and now there are all sorts of mixed messages over TikTok.
After Donald Trump threatened to ban the app, there were suggestions that the UK might benefit from the fallout and owner ByteDance might consider opening an international HQ in London, although Property Week readers are not convinced. Talks with Boris Johnson were reportedly halted but have now reportedly been resumed.
The UK government is clearly in a total quandary over how to deal with Chinese interests in the UK – and the property industry needs to ask itself many of the same difficult questions. Has it become too reliant on Chinese money? Is it time to try and wean itself off – or would it be foolish to bite the hand that feeds it?
The industry must ask itself arguably even tougher questions about Russia. While clearly not all money from Russia is dirty, parts of the UK property market have become so engorged with Russian money that in a long-awaited parliamentary report on Russian activity in the UK, property agents and lawyers were accused of being “de facto enablers of the Russian state”.
Now that is quite an escalation from previous suggestions that the industry was simply turning a blind eye, but political tensions are running so high, what better way to deflect attention away from the domestic Covid-19 nightmare than having a pop at the Russians and that other easy target, the property sector, at the same time?
Regardless, the industry needs to take a long, hard look at itself in the mirror. If it doesn’t, the regulators will take a long, hard look at the industry – although, as Bill Browder, Putin’s so-called “public enemy number one” notes, some of them will need to locate their teeth first.
Just to let you know, we won’t be producing a print issue of Property Week next week or the week after (14 and 21 August). Don’t worry, we have plenty of exciting digital content planned. Next week, we’ll be running an ICYMI Lockdown Highlights digital page-turner. The following week, we’ll be bringing you some special content relating to Workspace Conference + Showcase, which takes place on 2 October. We’ll also continue to keep you up to date with all the usual news and views via our website. Look out for the next print mag on 28 August.