Westminster Diary -Britain is open for investment, not exploitation

24th June 2020

Throughout this crisis, brilliant British businesses have been at the heart of our Covid-19 response.

Some have switched their manufacturing lines to make PPE, others have supported efforts to find a vaccine and develop tests for the virus.

They have stood by this country during our time of greatest need. As Business Secretary, I am determined to do everything I can to protect them from possible risks.

Overseas investment has the potential to boost companies right across Britain, including here in Reading. But we must not be blind to the risks that hostile actors could pose to businesses that are on the front line in our battle against the virus.

Key firms like PPE manufacturers are not immune to the economic disruption caused by Covid-19 and could be an attractive prospect for investors looking to capitalise on firms’ temporary financial vulnerability.

It is crucial that now and in the future, we maintain our capacity to respond to similar public health emergencies. The Government wants to ensure these critical businesses, which may have become more susceptible to takeovers, have the necessary protections in place.

So this week I have changed the law to protect these important businesses from takeovers by opportunistic investors. I am expanding the Government’s powers to intervene in mergers and acquisitions, so that if an investor targets a firm critical to fighting Covid-19 or a future pandemic, I will be able to step in to protect our national interests.

The law already allows interventions where concerns are raised about media plurality, financial stability and national security. This will be expanded to include the need to maintain the capability to combat, and mitigate the effects of, public health emergencies.

This legislation is not anti-investment.  It is about ensuring the Government has the necessary powers to safeguard the welfare of British businesses and people in these unprecedented circumstances.

Other countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, have put similar measures in place to protect their business communities.

Of course, we want to remain open to inward investment - but it is crucial that our national resilience is preserved.

Some of our pioneering new industries also need our support. In recent years, the UK has made big leaps in artificial intelligence, cryptographic authentication technology and advanced materials - all areas critical to our national security.

But currently Government is unable to intervene in potential takeovers or mergers in these areas where companies are new, and relatively small.

So I am introducing a new law to lower the threshold for intervention on turnover and share of supply for these three areas, to give Government the oversight it needs.

These measures will address national security risks in the short-term, before I set out further plans in the forthcoming National Security and Investment Bill.

We must not allow our country’s foundations to be weakened at this critical time. My message is clear: the UK is open for investment, but not for exploitation.

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