Theresa May has been prime minister for five days – she just performed an about-turn on a £24bn takeover deal

Last week, she said that the Government should be capable of stepping in when a foreign firm swoops for British businesses that are important to workers and communities. Today, Theresa May hailed the £24bn takeover of ARM Holdings by Japanese firm SoftBank

Hazel Sheffield
Monday 18 July 2016 19:14 BST
May said she personally called chief executive of Softbank about the £24 billion ARM takeover
May said she personally called chief executive of Softbank about the £24 billion ARM takeover (REUTERS/Paul Hackett)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, has seemingly performed an about turn on her plans for a policy of opposing foreign takeovers of British businesses less than a week after it was announced in Birmingham.

May said on Monday that she personally called chief executive of Japanese company SoftBank about the £24 billion takeover of the UK's biggest global technology company, ARM Holdings, to congratulate him on the deal.

"This is clearly a vote of confidence in Britain. It will be the biggest ever Asian investment in the UK," the prime minister's offical spokeswoman said.

“The Prime Minister spoke to the chief executive of SoftBank yesterday and welcomed the investment and their commitment to keeping the company in Cambridge and doubling the number of jobs over five years.

“This is good news for British workers, good news for the British economy. It shows - as the Prime Minister has been saying - that we can make a success of leaving the EU," she added.

Theresa May's most controversial moments

Philip Hammond, Ms May's new Chancellor, said that the deal will turn a "great British company into a global phenomenon".

The comments come days after May launched her national campaign in Birmingham, stating that the Government should be capable of stepping in when a foreign firm swoops for British businesses that are important to workers and communities.

"Because as we saw when Cadbury’s – that great Birmingham company – was bought by Kraft, or when AstraZeneca was almost sold to Pfizer, transient shareholders – who are mostly companies investing other people’s money – are not the only people with an interest when firms are sold or close," May said at the launch.

May's strategy was not to automatically stop the sale of British firms to foreign ones, but to be capable of stepping in and defending it if the business was as important as AstraZeneca to the pharmaceuticals industry.

David Reader, a senior research associate at the Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) and UEA Law School who specialises in researching the role played by public interest considerations in merger control regimes around the world highlighted contradictions in the deal.

“Barely a week after setting out her plans for an industrial policy that would allow the UK to oppose foreign takeovers in strategically important sectors, Theresa May's new-look government has given its backing to a £24bn bid by Japanese firm SoftBank for UK chip-maker ARM," he said.

"This has led to a few raised eyebrows, including from the former business secretary Vince Cable, who – in a BBC Radio 4 interview – was critical of the Government's apparent lack of opposition to the bid."

ARM is the UK's biggest global technology company. It manufactures iPhones, chips and other technology that is licensed to other firms. It has the potential to be a leader in the "internet of things", when devices are given web connectivity.

Simon Segars, ARM chief executive, has had to defend the ARM deal against accusations that the UK is selling off its only top-tier tech company.

“Our culture, our management, the way we operate, our ethos, none of that is going to change," Segars told the Independent.

"We are not expecting SoftBank to come in here and say this is the way we do business, and here are a lot of processes you have to follow. They look at us and they see we are running a successful, profitable business. The thesis behind this is the two of us working together to drive the technology forward," he said.

But Hermann Hauser, the co-founder of ARM, said it was a sad day for technology in Britain.

“ARM is the last British [technology] company that has a global reach,” he said.

“It gave Britain real strength. It was a British company that determined the next generation microprocessor architecture.”

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