On 22 June 2020, the UK government announced its intention to expand the scope of the UK merger control regime, in particular to give itself the ability to intervene in corporate transactions on a wider range of public interest and national security grounds.
The changes (some of which came into force on 23 June 2020) are, at least to some extent, connected to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, they form part of a wider set of legislative reforms introduced over the last couple of years by the UK government to increase the scrutiny of transactions on public interest grounds.
They are also intended to be relatively short-term modifications to existing legislation, pending the anticipated introduction of a much wider-ranging National Security and Investment Bill later this summer, which would give the UK government a more comprehensive set of intervention powers.
The UK regime remains voluntary. However, for the time being, investors considering acquisitions or disposals of businesses which are in some way involved in the pandemic response (most obviously, but not only, companies such as vaccine research companies or personal protective equipment manufacturers), or which are active in the fields of artificial intelligence, cryptographic authentication technology and advanced materials, should consider the potential implications of the new rules for their transactions.