Boris Johnson’s brother in Hong Kong backs Brexit strategy as he plans UK hotel fund targeting Asian investors

Eric Ng

Boris Johnson’s “do-or-die” strategy to take Britain out of the European Union could work, said his youngest half-brother Max, who plans to launch a £1 billion (US$1.2 billion) real estate fund targeting Asian investors.

“I am confident that the prime minister can get [it] done, because he has true determination and conviction to deliver Brexit on or before October 31,” the Hong Kong-based banker-turned-entrepreneur said in an interview. “If he can’t do it, I don’t know who can.”

“I would expect the EU not to play ball at the moment [as] a negotiating tactic. I think the EU will blink first … it is just as damaging to the EU as it is to the UK to have a no-deal Brexit.”

Johnson, 34, is in advanced talks to co-found a hotel investment fund targeting Asian high net worth individuals and pension funds. He expects the sterling, which has weakened 6.2 per cent against the US dollar in the past six months, to be a big draw for foreign investors. It has fallen 11.7 per cent since the referendum in June 2016.

While Johnson declined to name the partner, he said the company owns and operates hotels in London that are popular with Chinese tourists. Three of these properties will be sold to the fund, tentatively set for launch three months after the UK’s departure from the EU or a general election, whichever comes first.

The UK was set now to leave the EU on October 31 after missing its earlier withdrawal deadline of March 29.

The fund, financed equally by investors’ capital and debt, will have an expected yield of 6 per cent, said the Eton College and Oxford University graduate fluent in Russian, Polish and French.

The debt financing, if completed, would fund the acquisition of more hotels, he added.

Johnson also speaks Mandarin, having lived five years in Beijing and was the first non-Chinese Briton to complete an MBA from Tsinghua University in 2007. He expects to become a Hong Kong permanent resident early next year after living here for seven years, most of which was spent working for a British metals trading house and investment bank Goldman Sachs.

He conceded that the Brexit impasse in the British parliament and uncertainty on negotiations with Brussels has made it difficult to convince investors on the benefits of doing business in the UK, but he was optimistic on its long-term prospects.

“It is a fantastic time to buy education [study], properties, products and be a tourist in the UK,” Johnson said, noting the pound fetches only around 8.5 yuan, compared to 15 in 2007 when he first lived in China.

Definitely I could see myself doing politics … at the moment there are enough Johnsons in politics

Max Johnson

“The best thing … is a quick decision for Brexit to either happen or not happen.”

He has advised personalised UK children’s storybook publisher Wonderbly on entering China where it has partnered with Nanjing-based Phoenix Publishing & Media Group, for which he was awarded a small stake on top of fees.

Besides his own advisory and investment firm MJ Capital, he is also a director at GEMS, a private equity firm founded by Simon Murray – former group managing director of tycoon Li Ka-shing’s conglomerate formerly known as Hutchison Whampoa.

Max Johnson says his half-brother Boris Johnson (above), the British Prime Minister, is the right man to deliver Brexit. Photo: AFP
Max Johnson says his half-brother Boris Johnson (above), the British Prime Minister, is the right man to deliver Brexit. Photo: AFP

He also harbours long-term political ambition.

“Definitely I could see myself doing politics … at the moment there are enough Johnsons in politics and we should have a kind of one-in-one-out policy just to limit the numbers,” he said. “I would love to play a role in trade and foreign policy.”

Brother Jo Johnson, who last November quit Theresa May’s cabinet as Minister of State for Transport to push for a second referendum on Brexit, last month joined Boris Johnson’s cabinet as a minister in charge of universities.

Journalist sister Rachel Johnson, a former pro-remain Conservative party member, four months ago joined the anti-Brexit party Change UK.

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