U.K. Minister Says ‘Wrong’ to Undo Foreign Deals Retrospectively

The U.K. is likely to drop plans to allow the government to unravel foreign deals involving British companies amid concerns such powers would send the “wrong message” to investors, a minister indicated.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Bloomberg TV on Thursday that his department will introduce the National Security & Investment Bill “shortly.” While he did not definitively rule out including retrospective powers to review and unwind foreign deals in the new law, he signaled such a move is not the government’s policy.

“Any retrospection on deals would send the wrong message,” Zahawi said. “Our priority is to make sure that we send a message to the world that we are open for business.”

People familiar with the matter told Bloomberg last month that the proposals included powers to allow ministers to intervene retrospectively in circumstances where national security is an issue. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is sensitive and was still under discussion.

The bill aims to cover deals in sectors such as defense and critical infrastructure, and will make provisions to protect sensitive intellectual property from foreign buyers. At the same time, with the U.K. due to leave the European Union’s single market at the end of the year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government wants to show Britain’s economy is open to the world.

“We want to be the most open, the most welcoming country in the world for investors and for investment, and we are for the majority of investors,” Zahawi said. “There is a very small minority of malign actors, people who want to do harm or steal IP from the U.K. and that is what the NS and I bill will I hope eliminate.”

Zahawi stressed the U.K. isn’t planning any measures that have not already been considered or taken by its so-called Five-Eye security partners in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He declined to rule out the option of retrospective elements, saying it would be “wrong” to divulge details of the legislation before unveiling it to Parliament.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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