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UK GOVERNMENT PLANS NEW CONTROLS ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

15 September 2016 | London
Legal Briefings – By Tim Briggs, James Quinney and Patrick Mitchell

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The UK Government has announced reforms to its approach to the ownership and control of critical infrastructure to ensure that the full implications of foreign ownership are scrutinised for the purposes of national security. 

While the announcement was made in the context of giving the goahead for the Hinkley Point C new nuclear project, it has wider implications for investments in UK infrastructure.

Details of the reforms are scarce. But crucially they will include the introduction of a "crosscutting national security requirement for continuing Government approval of the ownership and control of
critical infrastructure
". This statement warrants closer analysis:

  • It refers to the need for continuing Government approval. That implies more than a one-off approval process triggered by the acquisition of ownership or control. It suggests that the Government may revoke its approval in the event that it considers that control of critical infrastructure by a particular entity is no longer consistent with the national interest. Withdrawal of national security approval would presumably be associated with, at a minimum, a prohibition on exercising control rights and possibly even mandatory divestment.
  • The new national security requirement relates to critical infrastructure. The Government has said that this includes nuclear energy but has not otherwise expanded on what comprises critical infrastructure. As well as pipes, wires and telecoms networks, it might conceivably include upstream oil and gas production and non-nuclear generation. Transport infrastructure and operations might also be included.
  • The new requirement appears exclusively concerned with national security rather than broader public interest considerations. It is not therefore a vehicle for addressing the wider industrial strategy concerns raised by Theresa May shortly before her appointment as Prime Minister. In a speech on 11 July 2016 she referred to the abortive acquisition of AstraZeneca by Pfizer and noted that a proper industrial strategy would not automatically stop the sale of British firms to foreign ones, but it should be capable of stepping in to defend a sector that is as important as pharmaceuticals is to Britain. There may be greater scope for such an industrial strategy post-Brexit.
  • The requirement relates to ownership and control. A key question will be at what level of control the new requirement is triggered. Will it be based on majority control or will a lesser degree of control be sufficient? If the latter, the Government might adopt the relatively low threshold applied in UK merger control ("an ability materially to influence policy", which in some circumstances can be triggered by voting rights of 15% or less). Alternatively, it might consider that a higher – and more clearcut–threshold is appropriate (e.g. 30% of voting rights). 
  • The reference to a cross-cutting requirement appears intended to emphasise that it will override any existing consents or approvals. In this context, it is relevant that the reforms announced today include a review of the existing public interest regime in the Enterprise Act, which already permits the UK Government to intervene on national security grounds. The intention may simply be to avoid an overlap or duplication between the proposed new national security requirement and the existing public interest regime in the Enterprise Act.

It follows that much remains uncertain about the nature and scope of this new national security requirement. The Government will be under pressure to clarify its position at an early stage in order to minimise any potentially negative impact of this policy development on transactions in the infrastructure sector.

英国政府就针对外国投资关键基础设施的新管控制定计划

英国政府宣布了针对关键基础设施的所有权的和控制权的改革举措,确保外国人所有权的全部影响都在国家安全的意义上得到了审查。

虽然这项宣告的背景是欣克利C角新核电项目获得批准,但是其对英国基础设施投资有更加广泛的影响。

改革的细节很少。但是关键问题在于改革包括建立“政府持续性批准关键基础设施所有权和控制权的跨部门国家安全要求”。这一声明值得详细分析:

  • 新的国家安全要求同关键基础设施相关。政府已经表明核能会被包括在内,但是除此之外没有详细阐明关键基础设施的具体内容。除了管道、输电线路和通信网络之外,估计还会包括上游石油天然气生产设施和非核能发电设施。交通基础设施和运营设备可能也会包括在内
  • 新的要求看起来只同国家安全相关,没有涉及更广泛的公共利益因素。因此,这一要求并不是用来解决特雷莎·梅就任首相之前很短时间提出的更广泛工业战略问题的举措。她在2016年7月11日的演讲中提到了辉瑞制药收购阿斯利康失败的情况,并且强调正当的工业战略不会自动阻止外国企业收购英国企业,但是应当能够介入保护一个像制药业对英国这样重要的产业。英国退欧之后这类工业战略的范围可能更大。
  • 这一要求同所有权和控制权相关。关键问题在于怎样程度的控制会引发这一新要求。是会基于多数控制,还是较低程度的控制就足够了?如果是后一种情况,那么政府可能会采取英国并购管控所使用的较低门槛(“实质性影响政策的能力”,在一些情况下持有15%甚至更少的投票权就可以引发)。否则,政府可能会认为更高的——并且更加清晰的——门槛才算适当(例如30%的投票权)
  • 提到跨部门要求似乎旨在强调这一要求会代替现有的同意或批准。在这一背景下,重要的是今天宣布的改革包括审核《企业法》之中现有的公共利益制度,这一制度已经允许英国政府以国家安全为由进行介入。相关意向可能仅仅是防止提议的新国家安全要求同《企业法》中现有的公共利益制度发生交叉或重叠。

因此,这一新国家安全要求的性质和范围还有很多地方并不明确。政府会在压力之下尽早明确自身的态度,从而减少这一政策发展可能对基础建设部门带来的任何负面影响。

 

 

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