That report covered the first three months of the new regime (4 January to 31 March 2022), noting that whilst 222 notifications had been received across the whole range of sectors, at that point, no final orders had yet been issued.
Almost 9 months into the new regime, what more can we say about the impact that the NSI Act is having on deals with UK national security aspects?
Where UK national security concerns arise, the first months of the NSI Act demonstrate the Government's appetite to take strong action. Blocks, at least in the case of acquirors linked to politically sensitive states and sectors that are key to the UK's national security, are happening – and we can expect this to continue. However, the Government has also demonstrated a pragmatic stance when considering the appropriateness of remedies packages, even where politically sensitive states are involved.
To date, the two blocks have both related to acquirors with Chinese links and transactions that pose risks to UK defence interests. However, notifications have been received across all sectors covered by the NSI Act (not purely defence), so the scope of sectors in which action is taken is expected to broaden. Indeed, as explained above, we have now seen clearances subject to remedies in, for example, the satellite, communications and energy spheres.
At the other end of the spectrum, i.e. deals which do not raise material national security issues, our experience is that the new system is working efficiently. Filings are generally accepted by the Government within a few days, with clearance received within the initial review period without significant requests for further information.
However, the Government's action to date also reflects the focus of the NSI Act on the activities of the target, rather than purely the nationality of the investor. UK-based investors (and acquirors based in politically friendly nations) are not exempt from notification or from facing in-depth probes into their deals.
See our briefing for more detail.
EU foreign subsidies regulation: another notification regime for dealmakers
The EU has a strong regime to address EU State Aid, i.e. subsidies granted by EU Member States. However there has been growing concern over recent years that forms of assistance granted by 'third' (i.e. non-EU) countries can also impact the internal market, and that legislation is required to address the loophole.
The result is the Foreign Subsidies Regulation (or "FSR"): a new regulation seeking to combat the effects of potentially distortive subsidies granted by third countries to companies operating in the EU.
The final agreed text was approved by the European Parliament on 11 July 2022 and now faces a full vote of the legislature in November 2022. The obligations under the FSR are expected to take effect from mid-2023.
The FSR provides three routes for EU scrutiny of third country (i.e. non-EU) subsidies:
- A broad ex officio review tool, giving the Commission the power to investigate potentially distortive foreign subsidies on its own initiative.
- A mandatory and suspensory, ex ante, notification regime for M&A deals meeting certain financial thresholds, including a minimum level of foreign contribution received from third countries.
- A mandatory, ex ante, requirement to notify public procurement bids where a certain level of financial contribution has been granted by third countries.
Please see our briefing, which explores how the regime will operate (insofar as it relates to the second aspect, i.e. M&A deals), as well as some of the ambiguities created by the current drafting and next steps for dealmakers active in the UK.
UK Government confirms significant competition law reform: but legislative hurdles remain
As explained in the April 2022 edition of Insights for In-house Counsel, the UK Government conducted a wide-ranging consultation last year proposing substantial changes to the UK competition regime, including to UK merger control and market studies, Competition Act investigations and enhanced scrutiny of 'Big Tech'.
Our recent briefing outlined the reforms that the Government intended to take forward.
However, many of the reforms will require legislation to implement so may be some way off, if indeed they happen at all. The Government (under both the previous and new leadership) has not committed to any particular time-scale, promising only to identify the appropriate legislative vehicles "as Parliamentary time and priorities allow". Indeed, the late Queen's Speech fell short of including a commitment to legislate in the current Parliament (including only a Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill).
The Government has already been criticised for failing to table 'digital markets' proposals in Parliament, when the EU has already brought its Digital Markets Act into force.