Vince Cable yesterday gave the clearest indication yet of his attitude to the £35bn tie-up between the British defence group BAE Systems and the European aerospace giant Eads.
At a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats' conference in Brighton, the Business Secretary said he couldn't comment directly on the takeover, which may be subject to "quasi-judicial" review by him, but that his view was "I don't worry about foreign ownership".
His intervention had unfortunate echoes of the occasion two years ago when he was secretly recorded attacking Rupert Murdoch – at a time when he was due to adjudicate on the media mogul's bid for BSkyB. The Business Secretary was subsequently stripped of responsibility for deciding on the bid.
His remarks came as Eads – which owns Airbus – said it was on track to meet a 10 October deadline for providing further details on plans to forge the world's largest arms firm. The parliamentary defence committee has also launched an inquiry into the proposed merger.
Dismissing what he called "emotion about foreign takeovers", Mr Cable pointed out that Eads already had many employees in the UK. He praised the investment made in UK manufacturing by foreign firms such as Tata and Nissan. Even more tellingly, he also paid tribute to Kraft's continuing investment in Cadbury which was subject to a controversial takeover in 2010.
The proposed BAE-Eads deal is fraught with political complications. As well as the UK holding a "golden share" in BAE allowing it to stand in the way of foreign bidders, France and Germany are both major shareholders in Eads, each owning 22.5 per cent, while Spain has 5.5 per cent.