One of France’s most famous music stars Jean Michel Jarre has been in talks with the Downing Street over a possible transfer of business operations to the UK, No 10 has said.
The prime minister’s office confirmed Jarre, famous for his brand of electronic music, light-show extravaganzas and record-breaking numbers at his vast outdoor concerts, met with No 10 officials in September to discuss locating within the government-backed Tech City, which offers generous tax incentives to investors.
The announcement comes as France’s highest constitutional court rejected the Socialist government’s attempt to impose a 75% tax on its highest earners.
On the political blog site Order-order, which broke the story on Monday, a Downing Street source was quoted as describing the meeting as a “defection” from France over the higher tax rate. “He’s been into No 10 to talk to us about defection – it’s like a crappy old spy movie,” the source was reported as saying.
Jarre’s Paris-based agent did not immediately return a call for comment.
Last year, the 64-year-old, Lyon-born musician performed a massive concert in Monaco to celebrate the marriage of Prince Albert. Jarre was previously married to the English actor Charlotte Rampling, with whom he has a son. They divorced in 2002.
In 2005, the musician started Jarre Technologies to develop high-end audio products including the Aerodream One, an 11ft iPod dock, which retails for about £300,000.
David Cameron irked French Socialists in May when he said at the G20 summit he would “roll out the red carpet” and “welcome more French businesses to Britain” if François Hollande raised taxes on the rich. He said by paying British taxes, French firms could help “pay for our health service and schools and everything else”.
The Socialist MP Claude Bartolone, now leader of the parliament, said French people who moved to London for less tax always returned to France for medical care and schools because public services “no longer exist” in Britain.
France is in the grip of a debate about tax exile after the actor Gérard Depardieu bought a house across the border in Belgium, prompting the French prime minister, Jean Marc Ayrault, to say: “It’s pathetic really. Paying taxes is an act of patriotism and we’re asking the rich to make a special effort here for the country.”
Depardieu railed against high taxes in an open a letter published in Le Journal du Dimanche in December, saying he would give up his French passport and was leaving “because you consider that success, creativity, talent, anything different, are grounds for sanction”.
Alain Afflelou, who runs France’s biggest spectacles business, announced he was moving to London to expand his business, but added that he would stay resident in France and pay taxes there.
Hollande’s flagship super-tax on the mega-rich has dominated the headlines recently after France’s highest court rejected it as unconstitutional. The temporary measure would have meant individuals earning more than €1m (£800,000) would be taxed at 75% on income in excess of that. It was thrown out on a technicality, which means it will not come into effect this year. The government has promised to tweak the bill and introduce it in 2014.
The symbolic 75% tax was only a small part of a series of tax measures by Hollande, including new charges on capital gains, an increase in France’s unique wealth tax, an increase in inheritance charges and an exit tax for entrepreneurs selling their companies.
While Cameron has cut the UK’s top rate of income tax, Hollande has created a 45% tax bracket for annual incomes exceeding €150,000.
A Downing Street spokesman told the Guardian Jarre met with officials and talked specifically about the coalition’s Tech City hub, and was seeking opportunities to become “part of the cluster”.
Tamlin Magee, news editor of website Tech-Eye, said a move by a French company would be unusual but symbolic. “If this plan goes ahead, it sounds like it will be good PR for Tech City, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into this one move. Technology has been an area where the Conservatives are trying to be seen as progressive, and the existing tax loopholes, if you can afford them, virtually serve as an advert.”
He said the UK continued to be attractive to technology businesses: “Successful startups were already forming in this area of London, organically, without assistance from the government, however, since, Silicon Valley Bank recently opened its doors and it looks like there will be plenty more investment.
“At the moment, the move is unusual. However, with the amount of French people already living in London, many of them wealthy, it would not be too surprising if they take their businesses with them. Exactly who this would benefit would be up for debate.”
No 10 said: “Jean Michel Jarre visited Downing street to meet with officials about ‘Tech City’, London’s media and technology hub. There are a growing number of businesses and entrepreneurs from across the world who want to be part of the technology cluster in east London and we are keen for that to continue.”