Business Secretary Greg Clarke has embraced the cause of probing overseas takeovers
Better late than never. This paper has long advocated tougher scrutiny of mergers and financial transactions where national security might be involved.
The US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has been examining such transactions for many years.
In 2006, when P&O Ports was sold to Dubai Ports World for £5billion, the Americans blocked the sale of East Coast ports because of fears that allowing strategic assets to fall into Middle East hands could pose a threat.
It is to the credit of Business Secretary Greg Clarke that he has embraced the cause of probing overseas takeovers. This change did not just simply happen.
There has been concern at the Ministry of Defence, which created a song and dance about the Melrose takeover of GKN. And the security services have been unhappy about Chinese involvement in the Hinkley Point nuclear project in Somerset.
The big regret must be that the aggressive new policy, which could see as many as 200 transactions a year reviewed and as many as 50 held up, was not in place when Britain’s leading-edge tech company ARM, designer of smart chips, was sold to Japan’s Softbank in 2016.
Whitehall was enthusiastic for the £24billion deal, coming as it did in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.
The Government wanted to show Britain was still the most open economy in the world and would hug all-comers.
The inevitable has since happened and Softbank’s boss Masayoshi Son has sacrificed ARM’s Chinese offshoot at the altar of Beijing for a knockdown price of £583million.
If ever there was a case of winning political favour at the expense of draining UK-tech genius it was this. No wonder that ARM’s former chairman Stuart Chambers wishes the deal hadn’t been done.
The worry must be that lowering the drawbridge on overseas takeovers and imposing criminal penalties on entities which seek to pursue them by nefarious means will be seen as a blow against free movement of capital.
This just at the moment that the UK is resetting its sights on the rest of the world. The trigger for scrutiny by ministers under the proposed new law is wide-ranging, from land sales near national security facilities, to loans to sensitive companies to disguised takeovers of assets which could have defence uses.
Sand is being put in the wheels but it is regrettable so much technology, the product of our great research universities at a cost to the taxpayer, has been gratuitously sold by compliant, short-term investors.
Technology and intellectual property transfer overseas is the biggest threat to a Brexit which works.
The change of tack comes none too soon.
Seems like only yesterday that Hammerson boss David Atkins was extolling the wonders of Intu and his group’s skills in turning underperforming shopping centres and retail parks into must-visit destinations for consumers.
With activist investors Elliott Partners looking over his shoulder and the share price going nowhere, Atkins has unsheathed a grand plan to release value for investors.
He wants to sell 13 retail parks, having disposed of Imperial Retail Park in Bristol and Fife Central Park to property investor Leo Noe this week.
The last-ditch survival strategy from Atkins looks familiar. Gavin Patterson unveiled a radical new strategy at BT before being given the heave-ho.
A shocking email from Crete informed me that my friend Mark Sebba, aged 69, died suddenly while on holiday with family and friends.
Formerly an investment banker at City firm Charterhouse, Mark moved into the digital world, working in radio and video before starting a new career as chief executive of online fashion retailer Net-A-Porter.
Under his leadership from 2003-14 the upmarket fashion site grew into Britain’s most brilliant success in e-retailing.
Sebba was a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum, chair of its commercial arm and held a number of non-executive jobs.
Most importantly, Mark was a fine, astute and kind person who balanced business life with unseen charitable and public service.
He leaves a huge hole in the lives of his wife Anne, family and all who knew him.