Cobham takeover should not have been referred on national security grounds

Andrea Leadsom talks on BBC Breakfast Time: BBC Breakfast Time

If you can predict anything about our monopoly authorities these days, it’s that they’ll always do the unpredictable.

So, while all the facts suggest the Competition and Markets Authority should leave the defence giant Cobham’s shareholders to sell their company to America’s Advent Partners, you wouldn’t bet the farm.

The vast majority of Cobham’s work and employees are in the US and Advent has a strong track record of buying and building businesses, not asset-stripping and closing them. It is a company based in the land of our closest ally and fellow Nato member. Its own board has recommended the deal to its shareholders, who overwhelmingly voted in favour.

But the Competition and Markets Commission is these days a somewhat truculent regulator, blocking deals such as Sainsbury-Asda where the real detriment to the public was far from obvious, but positive headlines could be gained in the conservative media.

So, one assumes it will find no reason to interfere in Cobham’s wishes, but who knows?

It was Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, who decided to refer the deal for CMA scrutiny. Riding high in a jingoistic, party apparently appealing to those wanting to return Britain to the 1950s, who wouldn’t pass the buck?

But perhaps, though, there’s another way a Brexit-obsessed government should have viewed the deal. Pulling out of the EU means we need more than ever to bring investment into the country and prove ourselves an internationally open, free-market society.

Overturning the Cobham sale on spurious national security grounds would send all the wrong signals. A more courageous minister would not have risked leaving the decision to the CMA.


Smash, no grab

Don’t mistake car dealer Pendragon’s woes entirely on the burst bubble of Britain’s car market. This was a pile-up largely of the company's own making. More specifically, by the reign of long-standing chief executive Trevor Finn. Not only did he fail to see the decline in overall demand, but he stocked too many second-hand gas-guzzlers at a time customers were wanting greener vehicles. His retirement earlier this year is not being mourned by many.

This is hardly what they call in the car insurers call a no-fault crash.