The UK government is set to examine the national security implications of the 18% holding of French telecom group Altice in BT, a move that comes weeks before lifting takeover restrictions.
BT He said on Thursday that he had received a message that Business Secretary Quasi Quartang was using his “reading power” under the new National Security and Investment Act to examine December’s increase in the French company’s share.
Quarteng will now have 30 working days to assess the holding in the context of national security, although this can be extended by 45 days if necessary.
Altis, controlled by a billionaire Patrick DrahiAnnounced in December that it was increasing its stake in BT from 12% to 18%, valued at more than £ 3bn.
In a statement, the UK government said it had “powers under the National Security and Investment Act 2021 to examine and, if necessary, intervene in appropriate acquisitions in the context of national security”.
He added: “The business secretary has decided to call for the acquisition of 6% shares by Altice from BT for the purpose of a full national security assessment.”
When it increased its stake, Altice said it did not intend to make an offer for BT, meaning that under the takeover code it would not be able to make an unwanted takeover bid for six months. This period will end in mid-June.
“The timing seems to be related to Altis’ takeover restrictions that will expire in June, and that may be more of a warning about acquiring additional control than resisting 18% of the holding itself,” said James Burford, an analyst at Enders Analysis.
“BT is very sensitive in terms of national security – it does work for a government that it is not allowed to talk about, as well as is vital to network resilience. I would not expect the government to allow takeover or full control to pass to a foreign investor.”
In a statement, BT said it would “fully cooperate with this review”. Its stock fell 5% on Thursday.
Altis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The NSI Act, which entered into force on January 4 this year, allows for a broader examination of foreign takeovers of companies in sensitive industries.
It gives the Secretary of State the authority to order purchases “that the Secretary of State reasonably suspects cause or may pose a risk to national security,” according to a document from the Business Department (BEIS).
Thereafter, the Secretary of State may cancel the purchase or, if necessary and proportionate, impose certain conditions, block or cancel it completely. “
This is the second such intervention by the Secretary of State that has become overt.
The first arrived Wednesday night when Quartang said yes Examining the takeover Last year at Newport Wafer Fab, in Wales, by Nexperia, a Dutch subsidiary of Chinese company Wingtech.
Other takeovers have been quietly called since January without any publicity, according to officials.
NSI legislation was first proposed by former Prime Minister Theresa May to expand the number and type of deals that could be scrutinized by the UK government, amid growing discomfort about hostile foreign powers gaining access to technology in the UK.
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