Autor

Paolo Palmigiano

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Autor

Paolo Palmigiano

Partner

Read More

23. September 2021

What you need to know about the new National Security and Investment Act

  • In-depth analysis

On 4 January 2022, the UK National Security and Investment Act will commence. It will introduce a new screening regime for transactions that might raise national security concerns.

The Act is likely to impact a significant number of transactions in key sectors of the economy. The scope of the regime is striking: there will be a mandatory notification in 17 key sectors, there will be no safe harbours on the basis of turnover thresholds and companies will face substantial fines in case of breaches.

The Act will also have a retrospective impact on certain transactions from the date of its introduction in Parliament (12 November 2011), a move prompted to prevent companies taking pre-emptive action.

Mandatory and Voluntary notification

Regardless of whether the transaction raises national security issues or not, notification will be mandatory for transactions in 17 designated sensitive sectors which are:

  • advanced materials
  • advanced robotics
  • artificial intelligence
  • civil nuclear
  • communications
  • computing hardware
  • critical suppliers to government
  • cryptographic authentication
  • data infrastructure
  • defence
  • energy
  • military and dual use
  • quantum technologies
  • satellite and space technologies
  • suppliers to the emergency services
  • synthetic biology
  • transport.

The Act contains definitions of the type of products / services that are covered by those sectors.

For deals in all other sectors of the economy or for companies providing products / services that do not fall into the definition of one of those 17 sectors, notification will be voluntary if the transaction raises national security issues.

Wide Scope of the Act – no turnover or market shares thresholds

The Act captures not just the acquisition of control but also what the Act calls "trigger events" such as:

  • the acquisition of more than 25%, 50% and 75% of the votes or shares in an entity
  • the acquisition of voting rights that enables or prevents the passage of any class of resolution governing the affairs of the entity being acquired
  • the acquisition of material influence, that is the ability of the acquirer to influence policy relevant to the behaviour of the target entity in the marketplace. Material influence can be found with a shareholding as low as 15%.

Notably, the new regime will apply not only to investors from foreign countries looking to invest in the UK but also to UK-UK transactions. The Act also has extraterritorial effects as it covers acquisitions of non-UK entities if they carry out activities in the UK or supply goods or services to persons in the UK.

How it will work

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will be responsible for the review. Once a notification has been submitted, the Secretary of State has 30 working days to make a decision whether to clear the transaction or to call it in for a more in-depth review. A full review could add several weeks to a deal timeframe.

The Secretary of State will make its assessment based on:

  • the nature of the target and whether it is in an area of the economy where the government considers risks more likely to arise
  • the type and level of control being acquired and how this could be used
  • the extent to which the acquirer raises national security concerns.

Upon notification, several outcomes are possible: approval, approval with conditions or prohibition (or unwinding the transaction). The government has wide powers to impose conditions, for example altering the amount of shares an investor is allowed to acquire, restricting access to commercial information etc.

Furthermore, the government will have the power to call in transactions that were not notified but raise national security concerns for a period of five years following the date of the investment as long as the Secretary of State acts within six months of becoming aware of the transaction (for example from the press). For acquisitions subject to mandatory filing and that were not notified, the five-year limit does not apply.

There will be extensive powers to request information and during the national security review the Secretary of State can issue interim orders to prevents the parties from completing a transaction: transactions subject to mandatory filing cannot be completed until approval has been given.

The CMA, the UK Competition Authority, will continue to be competent for transactions that raise competition law issues if the thresholds for a competition law assessment are met. This and the national security vetting will proceed in parallel but with different timeframes and might have a significant impact on the timing of completion of deals.

Retrospective application

Once the Act commences in January, the government will be able to retroactively call-in transactions for review when they occur after the introduction of the Bill to Parliament in November 2020. They can do so for a period of five years.

Many of our clients have already been seeking informal advice from the government that their transaction is not captured by the Act or they will not be called in once the Act commences

Although the advice given by BEIS is not binding, it provides some comfort to companies.

Sanctions

Completing an acquisition subject to mandatory notification, or not notifying a transaction where notification is mandatory, carries heavy fines (5% of total worldwide turnover or £10 million (whichever is greater) and imprisonment up to five years). Transaction where notification is mandatory will be void without clearance.

What should you do now?

In a period of many challenges, the severity and scope of this new regime may come as a surprise to international businesses but it is part of a trend we have seen in many countries, including in Europe, to strengthen national security rules.

A government estimate of receiving around 1000-1800 notifications a year seems conservative in our view and it is certain that the process will necessitate increasingly diligent consideration to avoid costly mistakes.

Although the government acknowledges that many transactions will be approved without conditions, recent high-profile cases demonstrate the government’s resolve to vet transactions that raise national security concerns.

The new regime will involve considerable costs for businesses: the large number of sectors affected and the serious consequences for not notifying as well as the suspensory effect of the new regime will impose increased challenges for foreign investments in the UK and create delays in transactions.

Additionally, the power to call in transactions covered by the Act and entered into from 12 November 2020 means that many companies are already requesting informal advice even before the Act commences, in order to avoid possible scrutiny later.

Here to help

Our expert Competition, EU & Trade team has been involved in several clearances for national security law under the current regime and we stand ready to advise clients on the implications of this stricter regime for your investments.

Please get in touch if you think a conversation concerning the impact on your organisation would be of use to you.

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