BRITAIN is not exactly bending over backwards to attract foreign investors. The country is marching towards a hard Brexit, which involves quitting the European Union’s single market and customs union. Theresa May’s Conservative Party has promised to take a tougher line on foreign money, which it links to “aggressive asset-stripping [and] tax avoidance”. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s far-left leader, wants to nationalise the utilities and railways, many of whose owners live abroad.

Yet foreigners have been splurging. Foreign investment in British firms hit an all-time high in 2016. Statistics from Dealogic, a data firm, suggest that so far in 2018 a tenth of announced global mergers and acquisitions have involved a British firm as a target, the highest share since 2008. Klépierre, a French property company, is after Hammerson, a British one, which until recently was listed on the FTSE 100. Comcast and 21st Century Fox, two American media firms, are battling over Sky, whose headquarters are in Britain. Despite the unwelcoming rhetoric, under Mrs May foreign investors have bought British firms at a faster rate than under any other recent prime minister (see chart).

Foreigners have long liked putting money into Britain. For decades the country has had a largely free market in corporate control. Good universities and the English language are other draws. Over the years Britain has attracted more inward investment than most other European countries.

For sure, Brexit has damaged Britain’s reputation among foreign investors. A recent survey from EY, a consultancy, finds that 14% have reduced or paused investment in Britain in the past 18 months. Yet Brexit cuts both ways. The EY report finds that 7% of foreigners have increased investment. Firms with supply chains across the single market may be consolidating some activities in Britain ahead of Brexit. Meanwhile, a weak pound, caused by traders selling British assets, has made takeover targets cheaper.

But Britain has more to offer than a bargain. Chandru Iyer works for Kingston Smith, an accountancy and business-advisory firm which has helped Indian companies set up shop in Britain since the 1980s. Among other things, they like Britain’s low rate of corporation tax, which will fall to 17% by 2020. The “patent box”, a scheme by which companies can pay 10% corporation tax on profits earned from patented inventions, is also attractive.

What does all this say about the government’s promise to crack down on foreign investors? Mrs May is aiming her rhetoric at the many Britons who hold takeovers, especially foreign ones, in low regard. Many shudder at the story of Kraft, an American food giant, which swallowed Cadbury, a beloved chocolatier, in 2010, then reneged on a pledge not to close a factory. The Daily Mail has campaigned to “save” GKN, a venerable British engineering company, from Melrose, an investment firm (which, as it happens, is also British).

In places the government is taking a tougher line. It has won assurances from Melrose that GKN will not be Krafted—in the short term, at least. It will soon have the power to scrutinise deals involving small companies, not just big ones. Firms are also getting extra time to respond to a potential takeover bid before an offer is made.

If these policies sound modest, they are meant to be. Mrs May recognises the benefits that foreign takeovers can bring. New owners often introduce better management and technology, both useful when productivity growth is so weak. With Brexit looming, tough policies to block international capital would be reckless. Foreigners will fancy Britain for a while yet.

Correction (April 9th 2018): We referred to a survey on foreign investment from PwC. In fact, the survey was from EY. Sorry.