03 July 2024

Vassal State

How America Runs Britain

Angus Hanton
2024, Swift Press, 229 pages,
ISBN 9781800753884

Reviewer: Rosemary Connell

Vassal State is an amazing and stark description of the incredible extent of control exercised by the US over Britain. Extensive and thorough research provides the evidence that much of this control over Britain has moved to the US. (There are 50 pages of notes helping to prove this.)

The author illustrates the breadth and depth of US domination in many sectors of the economy, for example cereals, confectionery, soft drinks, chicken, coffee chains, online shipping and delivery (Amazon, FedEx, UPS), online entertainment and games and more.

Several football clubs are American owned as is The Trainline. The city is extensively populated with many US banks, lawyers, consultants and advertising agents.

Data is heavily dominated by US companies: Meta, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Ancestry.

Sales by US multinationals are estimated to be some 25% of UK GDP. The author points out that this is far higher than most European countries. In the UK politicians see Foreign Direct Investment as a good thing. They define it as the sum of sales of companies and treasures (selling off the family silver) plus investment in new factories (creating wealth and employment). The latter often needs cash or tax incentives to attract the investment whereas the former often leads to job losses in the UK and the movement of the Head Office to the US. The statistics collected do not separate out the sales of companies from the investments which means that looking at total figures does not begin to show the real picture.

Worse still most of US profits earned in the UK are routed through tax havens resulting in very low tax rates paid to the UK. For example, Google’s large Head Office in the UK is owned via a Luxembourg company which charges very high rents for this office thus reducing any taxable profit made in the UK.

Unlike many European countries, Britain has welcomed foreign takeovers and has few restrictions on ownership. In the 80’s Margaret Thatcher encouraged the sale of British companies. This resulted in US companies targeting takeover opportunities in Britain. British investors are often fixated with short-term returns, so when these do not materialise, companies easily fall prey to tempting takeover offers. US investors favour scale rather than immediate returns. With the large home market, scale is readily achievable. It is then followed by penetration of foreign markets with competitively priced products. Any surplus profits are invested into R&D and diversification. By contrast British technology companies cannot scale up in the same way having a much smaller home market and having exited Europe with Brexit are now not part of any large trading bloc. The so called “special relationship” with the US has not led to a trade deal…

Cashless payments are a tariff on British businesses transferring money to US corporations (e.g. MasterCard). These corporations are aiming to reduce cash payments in Britain with the result that the use of cash is much lower in Britain than in France or Germany.

The extractors of wealth, Private Equity, are led by the US Blackstone whose aim is to acquire British businesses, then increase profitability by cost cutting, restructuring, price rises, increasing debt, sale and lease backs, or minimising pension liabilities. Many household names are now owned by private equity and have been removed from the London Stock Exchange. Low valuations after crises and low interest rates provide buying opportunities. Reliable cash flows are attractive to Private Equity as is exemplified by the purchase of 5000 London railway aches with no restraints on raising rents.

The author points out that failure to collect taxes from US companies due to their use of tax havens results in the UK inability to invest in NHS, Education and infrastructure.  Despite the payment of very low taxes in the UK, US companies are major users of infrastructure - e.g. Amazons use of roads and packaging disposal.

American companies obtained many of the “Covid” contracts including vaccines where our Astra Zeneca was cheaper. The NHS is increasingly dependent on the US for drugs, supplies and services. Cloud computing where the UK government is a big spender, is dominated by Amazon and Microsoft. In defence the US has taken over 3 large aerospace companies (Meggit, Cobam and Ultra). Westland helicopters also went to the US. Two large listed UK waste management companies Biffa and Vidor are also going to the US.

Home-town advantage is an established tradition in US where company-supported towns are established, e.g. Redmond/Microsoft, Beaverton/Nike and many others. This advantage is denied to the UK when HQ moves to the US as with the Cadbury takeover by Kraft. This has largely ended the flow of civic amenities to Bourneville.

The US has used its influence to make Britain limit the use of Chinese technology. The Inflation Reduction Act subsidises US industry at the expense of UK and Europe with subsidies luring companies to relocate to the US. Attractive offers are made to our best students and researchers to persuade them to move to the US.

The author proposes some measures to halt or slow the increasing us influences. Firstly, stop the sale of UK companies to the US (in the same way as the French do), Secondly, support innovation with long term investment. Thirdly, invest in people with lifelong learning.

Also important is the measurements of what we are dealing with.UK. Statistics are often not available to measure the extent of the transfer of UK assets to unaccountable foreign owners.

This book constitutes fascinating reading. It exposes the extraordinary extent of US influence in Britain. It is provocative, providing valuable food for thought for Britain and the British people. Why have so many of our established and new companies been sold to America? Why are government departments so reliant on purchases of supplies, data storage and more from US companies? Why do we purchase so much from American owned companies? While many of the answers are obvious, the solutions are far from simple. The inability to obtain reasonable levels of tax from US companies is a formidable constraint on Britain’s ability to invest.

Vassal State must be essential reading for all politicians as well as a much wider audience.